Two hundred years of Camellias at Chiswick House

Chiswick House CamelliaLast summer, Yannick and I visited Chiswick House, a neo-Palladian villa built by the third Earl of Burlington in 1729. The gardens, restored in a two year, twelve million pound project and reopened in 2010, were glorious, but there was one thing we missed seeing – the camellias, which bloom in February/March. I vowed then to come back for the annual camellia festival in the amazing two hundred year old conservatory, so last week saw us on the train to Chiswick once again.

Chiswick House Conservatory Camellia Japonica Elegans

The three hundred foot long conservatory, which houses the camellia collection, is a Grade I listed building designed by the architect Samuel Ware, who later designed the Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly. It was completed in 1813.

Chiswick House Conservatory

It was one of the earliest large glass houses to be built, predating Decimus Burton’s glass house at Kew and Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace. It fell into disrepair in the late twentieth century, but has now been completely restored, conserving and reinstalling all the historic metalwork of the building.

Chiswick House Conservatory Camellias

Chiswick House Conservatory

When the conservatory decayed, so did the camellia collection, planted in 1828 and believed to be the oldest collection under glass in the Western world.

Chiswick House Conservatory Camellia Japonica Parksii

Chiswick House Conservatory Camellia Japonica Incarnata

Fortunately three local members of the International Camellia Society stepped in to look after them, ensuring their survival.

Chiswick House Conservatory Camellia Japonica Duc de Bretagne

The original collection was ordered by William Lindsay, the 6th Duke’s Head Gardener, from Alfred Chandler’s Vauxhall nursery. Today the collection of thirty three different varieties includes many of the earliest varieties introduced to Britain, and many of them are descended from the original planting.

Chiswick House Conservatory Camellia Japonica Pompone

The camellias at Chiswick are all camellia japonica, the most popular ornamental camellia in the UK. Another camellia strain, camellia sinensis, is popular for another reason – it’s the plant from which we make tea.

Chiswick House Conservatory Camellia Japonica Parksii

Chiswick House Conservatory Camellia Japonica Alba Plena

The camellia festival is free and is on until 13th March. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Last entry to the conservatory is at 3:30 pm.

Chiswick House Conservatory Camellia Japonica Black Tie

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