A spectacular collection of over 200 Camellias forms our most-prized plant collection. This internationally unique collection is built around the Camellia cultivars produced by two local plant breeders: Jim Finlay and Os Blumhardt, including many fragrant varieties found in no other public garden in the world.
he New Zealand Camellia story started with the earliest settlers from the Northern Hemisphere, bringing their precious plants to the other side of the world. We still enjoy the beauty of these old varieties, as well as appreciating those that are more recently created by enthusiasts worldwide.
Our first plantings of Camellias started 23 years ago, and some of these Camellias have grown into large trees; so pruning is now done considering space, shape and growth habit, to give each tree room to develop its natural shape, but still control the size and individuality of each. This means the Camellias are more integrated into the whole garden, and provide a lovely green backdrop for tropical plantings when Camellias are not flowering...a perfect horticultural partnership.
Whangarei’s climate is very humid, so the trees are kept quite open, and overhanging trees cut back to allow enough light, to minismise potential disease problems. Reducing the number of trunks is also part of the pruning strategy, meaning more of the plants’ energy is directed into fewer, healthier branches, producing more and better flowers.
The trees are kept mulched, watered when needed in summer, and lightly fertilised in Spring and Autumn, growing us healthy trees with many beautiful blooms over a long season - from March to October.
Above left, the southwest view of the collection. Above right, The Wedding Garden, the northeast end of the collection.
im Finlay (1925-2009) was a resident of Whangarei and a member of the Whangarei Branch of the New Zealand Camellia Society.
In 2001 and 2003, by then a world-renowned Camellia breeder, Jim gifted his collection to the Whangarei Quarry Gardens, for the enjoyment of the community, and to keep the collection where it was developed. This gift meant that Whangarei Quarry Gardens has the world’s largest collection of scented Camellias. Jim started breeding Camellias after attending an expert’s lecture on growing from cuttings. The story is told that Jim commented “I could do that“, and so 35 years of growing, breeding, and showing Camellias began.
A close friend of Jim’s was Os Blumhardt, another Whangarei resident, NZCS Member and world-recognised breeder and grower of Camellias. From Os, Jim bought a strongly scented C. Lutchuensis, and this he crossed with his largest flowering Camellia “Tiffany”. After many years of dedicated patience – 7 years waiting for a flower! – this cross became “Scentuous”, the first of many cultivars developed by Jim.
At Whangarei Quarry Gardens we have 90 of Jim’s cultivars, 12 of which are still to be identified. The detective work continues each flowering season, using Jim’s own photo album and numbering, to look for different cultivars, and perhaps one of the few named ones that are missing from our collection.
Jim was awarded the RNZIH Plant Breeders Gold Medal for C. Scentuous in 2004. Jim’s scented cultivars have been shown all over the world with great success – winning many ‘Most Outstanding Fragrant Camellia ‘ (USA Camellia Society) and similar awards.
Alongside Finlay and Blumhardt, fellow locals Jack Searing and Jack Tucker were actively breeding Camellias in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and into the 2000s. This created and buoyed enthusiasm for Camellias and Camellia breeding and showing — thus WQG carries their legacy in its collection.
We are lucky to be able to wander through and enjoy this collection at any time… and always enjoy sharing it with visitors, both local and international.
Above left: Jim Finlay , above Right: Os Blumhardt
Above, left to right: Finlay's 'Scentuous', Blumhardt's 'Fairy Wand', Searing's bloom, Tucker's 'Linda Tucker'
Above : Finlay, left with Jack Searing, right.
Above : Jack Tucker at the Quarry Gardens