Chiswick House Camellia Collection

The collection, housed in the Conservatory, is believed to be the oldest collection under glass in the Western world.

The Chiswick House Camellia collection, housed in the Conservatory, is a national treasure and believed to be the oldest collection under glass in the Western world. It includes rare and historically important examples of these beautiful plants, with a gorgeous array of blooms; pink, red, white and striped. Many of these are descended from the original planting in 1828.

Camellias have been grown in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam as a garden plant for thousands of years. The name of 'Camellia' was given to the genus in the 18th century, in honour of Georg Josef Kamel, a Moravian Jesuit apothecary and botanist, who worked in the Far East.

The Camellias that grow at Chiswick are all of the species C. japonica. The original collection was ordered by William Lindsay, the 6th Duke’s Head Gardener, from Alfred Chandler's Vauxhall nursery. The number and name of all the varieties were not detailed but visitors' descriptions include references to varieties of C. japonica such as 'Alba Plena', 'Welbankiana', 'Lady Granton', 'Lady Hume's Blush', 'Woodsii', 'Beali' (now 'Beali Rosea'), 'Nobilissima', 'Imbricata', 'Chandleri' and 'Elegans'. Today's Conservatory collection of 33 different varieties includes many of the earliest varieties introduced to Britain. Using stem girth as an approximate guide it is probable that the Camellias identified as C. japonica 'Variegata', 'Imbricata', 'Chandleri', 'Alba Plena', 'Pompone', 'Aitonia', 'Corallina', 'Rubra Plena' and 'Rubra' are all from the original 1828 planting.

'Middlemist's Red' was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Londoner John Middlemist, a nurseryman from Shepherds Bush. It is believed to have been presented by one of his descendants to Chiswick sometime after 1823 as the Sixth Duke added to his growing collection of camellias. Despite its name, the plant blooms a deep pink and is normally in full bloom during the months of February and March. The only other known plant of this variety is at the Treaty House, Waitangi, New Zealand.

These extraordinary plants were in danger of being lost as the Conservatory fell into ruin in the last years of the 20th century, but three local members of the International Camellia Society stepped in to tend them, ensuring their survival prior to the major restoration of Chiswick House Gardens, completed in June 2010.

The Chiswick House Camellia Show

These magnificent blooms are at their best during February and March.

BBC Gardeners’ World

Rachel de Thame visits the sensational Camellia display at Chiswick House and Gardens, London, to find out the fascinating history of the collection held there and to see the array of beautiful blooms.

Conservatory and the Italian Garden

The Conservatory, a Grade I listed building, was designed by the architect Samuel Ware (who later designed the Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly) and completed in 1813. At 300ft long it was one of the earliest large glass houses to be built and thus a forerunner of Decimus Burton's glass house at Kew and Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace.

The Duke also commissioned a young designer, Lewis Kennedy to lay out a semi-circular 'Italian' garden in front of the Conservatory. Completed in 1814 the Italian Gardens represents an early example of the reintroduction of formal gardens to England.

The garden is characterised by its symmetrical formality and intricate pattern of flower beds. Stone urns on plinths are set against an enclosing semi-circular path. The central path is flanked by copies of two magnificent Coadestone vases; the originals are now housed in the Conservatory.

The exterior view of the restored Conservatory at Chiswick House Gardens
The restored Conservatory at Chiswick House and Gardens

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