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Tea, anyone?

Tea camellia is blooming now in my garden.

Yesterday I rambled around in the garden. It was a rainy Sunday morning and I was delighted to find that my tea camellias were in bloom.

Tea camellias bloom with the ornamental sasanqua camellias each fall.   Their nodding creamy blossoms have a pleasant scent and are full of golden stamens.

I grow them in my shaded back yard using the same culture as I would for other camellias.   In the Deep South, they are fine garden plants with dark green oblong leaves.  The foliage is evergreen with coarse teeth.

I enjoy the tea camellia’s understated blooms which are produced in abundance.  Their glossy evergreen leaves definitely brighten the winter landscape.  However I really like the fact that I am growing a piece of history in my garden.

Tea camellia (Camellia sinensis) has been cultivated in China for over 3000 years.  Young leaves and buds are the source of white tea, green tea, black tea and oolong tea.

The differences  between all the types of tea has to do with the timing of the harvest and the treatment after harvest.   Darjeeling tea and white tea come from the first picking of the year using very tender growth and buds.  Green tea is dried for a very short time.  Oolong is dried for a few hours allowing it to ferment a bit.  Black tea is crushed or bruised and allowed to dry and ferment for a few days.  One of my favorites, Kukicha Twig Tea, is made from tea camellia stems and twigs rather than leaves.

Tea camellia thrives in Zone 7b gardens and those further south.

So far, I’ve only used my tea camellias as ornamentals.  I have been vowing that I will soon try to harvest and produce tea from them.  In my garden as understory shrubs, tea camellia is an open shrub that can reach 10′ tall.

In cultivation these large shrubs are planted in sun and maintained at a height less than 3′.  This allows for a dense plant with lots of tender new growth.

If  I’m serious about this tea thing, I think that I should get a few more tea camellias and plant them on the sunny hill overlooking my herb garden.

I could then repeatedly shear the tender new growth and process it into tea.   It would be kind of like growing a veal calf.

Or… I could allow the tea camellias that I already have to continue gracing my shade garden.  I could look forward to the creamy fall flowers, enjoy the glossy winter foliage and pick a little tender new growth for tea making each spring.

Either way, being a Southerner, I have been been drinking iced tea since I was a small child.  I look forward to the adventure of processing my own.  It’s just a matter of which method I will embrace.


 

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