Camellia Ark – Beginnings

Camellia Ark Australia Inc. was founded in April 2016. It was inspired by an earlier Camellia Ark Project (2009-2013) that was originally instigated by the E.G. Waterhouse National Camellia Gardens in Caringbah. These gardens were awarded “International Camellia Garden of Excellence” by the International Camellia Society. The Camellia Ark Project trialled some of the basic elements of garden plant conservation and been have subsequently developed by Camellia Ark Australia. This includes subscribers having the option of purchasing rare camellias and bequests of rare camellias to public gardens. Due to the significant interest in that earlier Project, the formalised incorporated body of Camellia Ark Australia was established.

The broader venture leading up to the establishment of Camellia Ark Australia was a concept that arose from the 2001 bushfires at Helensburgh, south of Sydney. Our current President, Jim Powell, a retired horticulturalist, lost 680 camellias due to fire in Helensburgh. He subsequently spent years trying to recollect his precious plants with great difficulty. It is that need that spurred him on to start discussions with Dr Stephen Utick, a retired public servant involved with the E.G. Waterhouse Gardens. Dr Utick subsequently developed many of the practical conservation project aspects together with Bill Parker, a commercial specialist camellia grower from Glenorie, who undertook the hard work or propagating many rare cultivars from across Australia.

Even though Camellia Ark Australia was incorporated in NSW, it is set up so that volunteers from across Australia, can participate and already it has committee members from Victoria and ACT. It differs from other garden clubs that meet regularly. Camellia Ark Australia provides specialised reading material and exclusive member offers. There are functions throughout the year which are varied in type and nature. A common thread is conservation; therefore the venues are often at historic homesteads and gardens, or botanical gardens. Apart from camellia lovers, its activities would also interest many with a fascination for aspects of Australian garden history.

During its first year, Camellia Ark Australia has gone from strength to strength with over 100 members, including one major botanic garden and overseas members. It can now count among its membership, botanists, plant hunters, nurseries, propagators, garden clubs, plant collectors and gardening personalities.

The primary aim as a ‘not-for-profit’ association is to save Australia’s endangered camellias, particularly as strict but necessary quarantine restrictions make camellia imports now extremely difficult to undertake. There is a sequence to its conservation activities. Firstly, rare camellias are sought out, fully identified and cuttings taken through arrangement with collection owners. Secondly, our propagators undertake the task of propagation from these cuttings to produce healthy nursery stock for sale. Thirdly, rare camellias are promoted to our members for purchase from a sense of being custodians or are otherwise promoted to the nursery trade. Fourthly, offers of rare camellias are made to botanic and other public gardens across Australia, from a strategic perspective of national conservation of our national stock of camellia and other plants of the family Theaceae.

Two other aspects of the association’s conservation activities are worth noting, both aimed at promoting a wider culture of camellia conservation across Australia. Camellia and other Theaceae plants are native to Asia and have been in cultivation for thousands of years and Camellia Ark Australia aims to promote these rare camellias as multicultural symbols of friendship. Also Camellia Ark Australia is actually engaged in helping local communities to conserve heritage camellia trees, many now over 100 years old.