Chiswick House Gardens celebrates its restoration with historic Camellia Festival

By Culture24 Staff | 07 February 2011
a photo of a large white building with a dome and classical portico at its front
Chiswick House © Clive Boursnell
Festival: Chiswick House Camellia Festival, February 19 – March 20 2011.

Chiswick House Gardens is offering a welcome portent of the spring as it celebrates its recently completed £12 million restoration with a Camellia Festival.

The Chiswick House Camellia collection is probably the oldest in the western world, and contains rare and historically important examples of these beautiful plants housed in the Gardens’ recently restored Grade I listed conservatory

Originally designed by Samuel Ware for the Sixth Duke of Devonshire and completed in 1813, the famous conservatory was a forerunner of those designed by Decimus Burton at Kew and Sir Joseph Paxton at Chatsworth.

The plants it houses are equally important. Exotic and expensive, the Camellia is known as the Queen of the Winter Flowers and was highly prized when it first became available to British gardeners in the late 18th century.

a photo of a pink flower in bloom
Middlemist Red© Clare Kendall
In 1828 the conservatory was planted with a large number of Camellias. Most of them survive today and are exceptionally rare, flowering every March with a fabulous array of pink, red, white and striped blooms.

The collection includes one of the world’s rarest Camellias, Middlemist’s Red, thought to be one of only two surviving examples in the world, the other is in New Zealand.

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.

A photo of the interior of a large white domed conservatory
© Clive Boursnell
These extraordinary plants were in danger of being lost as the conservatory fell into ruin in the last years of the 20th century, but 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.

Visitors to the Chiswick House Camellia Festival will have full access to the Conservatory glass house and historic camellia collection with specialist guides from Chiswick House and Gardens Trust and the International Camellia Society on hand to provide information and expert guidance on how to choose and grow Camellias.

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