Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Solving Sacramento’s camellia mysteries

Camellias aren’t just beautiful; they’re tough. Need proof? Look around Sacramento this week.

Sure, the weather has been wacky. We’ve endured the driest winter in a century and experienced a record cold spell in December.

Yet, there they are, right on schedule – camellias blooming like crazy. No wonder Sacramento is the Camellia Capital.

Next weekend, Sacramento will celebrate its favorite flower in style with the 90th annual Sacramento Camellia Show at Memorial Auditorium. It’s the nation’s largest and oldest show of its kind. More than 5,000 patrons usually turn out to see the flowers.

With such history, this Sacramento tradition usually draws a crowd of newbie exhibitors, too. They would like to show a camellia from their own gardens but don’t know how. Often, they have no idea what variety of camellia they have and what category in which to enter it.

Monday, novice flower exhibitors are invited to get some expert advice before the big show. The Camellia Society of Sacramento will solve these little mysteries and identify flowers whose names are long forgotten (or never known) by their growers.

“It’s so much easier to do this at a meeting than the show,” explained Julie Vierra, a longtime member.

“Every year (at the show), we have people show up with camellias in paper bags and asking – what is this?

“The meeting is the perfect place to get those answers.”

Sacramento is loaded with such “mystery blooms.” Thousands of heritage bushes – some dating back to the 1930s or older – dot local gardens.

“There are so many old heritage bushes in Land Park,” Vierra said. “Some of these (unknown camellias) are actually seedlings; they have no names. But most of them, the (society’s) old-timers can figure out.”

The society meets at 7 p.m. Monday at Lutheran Church of the Master, 1900 Potrero Way, Sacramento (near the old Capital Nursery on Freeport Boulevard). In addition to name identification, guests also can get tips on how to exhibit a camellia as well as care for it.

And yes, camellias are drought tolerant, Vierra said. That’s what a lot of local gardeners want to know right now. They have decades-old shrubs and worry if those flowers will survive with less water.

Vierra noted a yard in her neighborhood that has been all but abandoned. Like many local homes, that yard contains some camellias near the home’s foundation. Nothing had been watered since last summer – or longer.

Amid this parched landscape, the camellias burst back into bloom.

“In that yard, everything is dead but the camellias,” Vierra said. “They thrive through thick and thin. They can live through neglect.”

Which may make camellias an even more appropriate symbol for Sacramento; they’re resilient amid trying times.

As for the camellia show, it has its own unique symbol – the official collector’s button. And for the third consecutive year, the same local artist won the society’s button competition.

For the 90th show, Joanne Tsukamoto won the button contest with her depiction of a showy red camellia. It was chosen from dozens of entrants.

During the camellia show at Memorial Auditorium, Tsukamoto will be on hand to sign buttons, Vierra said. The buttons, which sell for $1 each, have been a Sacramento tradition since 1964 and a major fundraiser. This year, patrons can choose either traditional pin-back or magnetic buttons.

See for yourself. The camellia show will be open from 3 to 6 p.m. next Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 2. Admission is free.

Do you ‘grow’ fake grass?

Artificial turf has come a long ways since its Chemgrass and AstroTurf beginnings. But how does it hold up in Sacramento?

With drought and landscape irrigation a major concern, we plan to take a look at synthetic alternatives to traditional lawn. But fake grass isn’t for every garden.

We’re looking for local readers who have had experience with artificial turf in their own landscapes. What kind of synthetic turf did they install? How has it held up? Do you have any recommendations – or second thoughts?

If you’ve had experience with artificial lawn, tell us about it. Send your thoughts to me via email at or by mail to Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., Sacramento, CA 95852. Please include a daytime phone number at which you can be reached.

And yes, we plan to share those thoughts with readers soon.