Big, old-fashioned camellias (C. japonica) don't bloom until March, but their svelter cousins, Camellia sasanqua, are already in full flower. Because they're blooming in nurseries, this is the time to pick out the most fragrant plants and colors you like best.
C. sasanqua are smaller, tidier and more lax than the typical, later-flowering camellias, but their flowers are sumptuously gorgeous. They work beautifully espaliered against a fence or wall. This technique best supports the shrub's branches and leaves, and also shows off the flowers. The leaves are deep green and shiny year round. And the flowers are so gorgeous, with papery blossoms in dazzling colors, centered with big fluffs of yellow stamen. The best spot for sasanquas are near the front door, so you'll see them close up when you go in and out. Cut whole branches to bring indoors for bouquets, or snip off single blossoms to float in water....
My favorite sasanqua is the cultivar 'Setsugekka', with large, snowy white blossoms and a sweet scent. I have three shrubs espaliered along a hogwire screen outside of the dining room. They disappear in summer when lilies bloom in front of them, then come into their own this time of year when the lilies and perennials die down. 'Setsugekka' blooms October through January during warm spells; plant it in a protected place so the buds aren't discouraged by frost and cold winds.
This old pink camellia is flowering against a brick wall on Queen Anne apartment building. It's unwatered, neglected, and bloming like crazy.