My patchwork camellias

Sometimes just being beautiful is enough. These are Guillio Nuccio variegated camellias. The tree is practically pushing them through my sitting room window right now.

Kris Pearson - Guillio Nuccio var camellia

I used to have more than 150 camellias – and then the dreaded petal blight arrived in New Zealand. This is rather like brown rot on peaches – one small spot that grows and ruins them. There’s no cure. It’s spread by the wind-blown spores of a particular little toadstool that appears out of fallen camellia petals that aren’t cleared away.

Someone with a piece of squished-up infected petal in the sole of a shoe possibly walked it out onto kiwi soil from the USA. That’s all it would take. Hopefully no-one was stupid enough to flout the biosecurity rules and try smuggling fresh camellia flowers into the country. We’ll never know.

Anyway, it was discovered first of all in our garden. Or perhaps I should say that as camellia judges and exhibitors we were very concerned about the strange brown spots we were finding on our beautiful blooms, and against a sea of protests from friends about how ‘we don’t have that here’ we searched further for answers. Sadly, we DID have it here. All hell broke loose then. Agricultural inspectors turned up to take soil samples and advised they might have to remove the top metre of our entire garden to stop it spreading! We were just on our way to Hawaii for a holiday, so had no idea what we’d return to. Two TV channels sent their garden programme people to film items. We became most unfortunately famous.

Once word got around, the investigation really kicked in and petal blight was identified all over Wellington, and further north – obviously it had been around for a while. We kept our top metre of garden, but we chose to dig out almost all the camellias. Picking up the petals from 150 trees was never going to be possible, and the whole city wasn’t going to attempt it…

But we couldn’t bear to part with Guillio Nuccio var. Each flower is different - just compare this one with the photo above. Every July, August and September we’re treated to a feast of huge blooms that are just beautiful – until a pesky spore floats by in the breeze and starts a little patch of rot.

I have never hated anything so much.