Rare plant of the month – August 2021

We have recently celebrated the Winner of the Threatened Plant of the Year competition with the judges’ choice awarded to Camellia × williamsii “Yesterday”.  The judges were won over by the charismatic blooms of this rare Camellia, along with its breeding, by Gillian Carlyon. The story of how it was found in the garden of a Plant Heritage member is a lesson to us all in keeping information about the plants in our gardens. Although named ‘Yesterday’, they felt it could be a plant for tomorrow if brought back into the horticultural trade.

Camellia × williamsii ‘Yesterday’ cc K Westbrook

We are thankful that Plant Guardian Peter Westbrook had registered his plant as it has highlighted the horticultural contribution made by Gillian Carlyon of Tregrehan Garden, Cornwall.  Peter was inspired to identify his camellia after reading an article on Camellia Conservation in the Spring 2021 Plant Heritage journal.  With his plant being over 35 years old the name was long forgotten, however as luck would have it, he was able to locate the original plant label which showed he had purchased the plant for £9.50p from Dobbies Garden Centre in Edinburgh.

Upon registration onto the Plant Guardian scheme, we undertake research to establish an introduction date and name of the breeder where possible. In this case there was a register for camellias, which describes Camellia × williamsii “Yesterday” as being ‘Originated by Gillian Carlyon, Par, Cornwall, UK, from the cross C. saluenensis × C. japonica Tomorrow. A large, bright lavender pink, medium to late season flowering double. A 20 year old seedling that first bloomed 1973. Average size, 11 cm across. Plant growth is upright, open and rapid with dark green leaves. American Camellia Yearbook, 1982, Reg. No.1802’.

Further research, through the register, suggested that Gillian Carlyon had hybridised and registered as many as thirty-three cultivars, 24 of which would be eligible to be recorded onto the Plant Guardian scheme, 18 of these could be considered threatened in cultivation.  An example of another Carlyon hybrid threatened in cultivation is Camellia ‘Jenefer Carlyon’ (note: Orthographic variants of ‘Jennifer Carlyon’ & ‘Jenifer Carlyon’) which received the RHS Award of Merit, and for which Gillian Carlyon was awarded the Reginald Cory Memorial Cup for in 1984.¹ 

Camellia × williamsii ‘Yesterday’ cc K Westbrook

According to Tregrehan Garden Gillian Carlyon’s hybridisation programme began in the 1960s, crossing camellias that remain from the original plantings of the 1840s at Tregrehan with more recent introductions and Camellia spp. saluenensis and cuspidata (www.tregrehangarden.uk). Further examples of threatened cultivars hybridised by Gillian Carlyon are C. ‘Nijiinski’, C. ‘Puce’ & C. ‘Lampedusa’.

We really do appreciate (and enjoy!) that our membership record rare and unusual plants grown in the UK & Ireland onto the Plant Guardian scheme.  This helps us conserve  these plants for future, but also enriches our knowledge of contributions made by historic plant breeders.

Do you have a rare plant to register in our Plant Guardian scheme?

¹ The Reginald Cory Memorial Cup being awarded annually to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the production of new hybrids of garden origin.