It seems that the camellia (although native to Asia) is disproportionately beloved by the French. From Coco Chanel to Balzac, these elegant blossoms play a huge role in French culture and art. They actually even bloom in the winter! In warm (ish) climates, one can enjoy camellias year-round and bring springtime into their homes year-round with just a few cut flowers.
A French Favorite
- The camellia has been brought to life in works of art including, novels, poems. and even jewelry. “La Dame Aux Camélias” (1848) (The Lady of the Camellias) by Alexandre Dumas is the story of a consumptive courtesan who falls in love and, as one might guess, takes a tragic turn.
- The 1936 film version with Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor captures the romance of the story as Garbo’s beauty rivals that of the soft white camellia blossoms that she clutches.
- The character Camille was played by the legendary Sarah Bernhardt on the stage (1905) and on screen (1911).
A Fashion Accessory
“La Dame Aux Camélias was my life.” –Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel
Coco Chanel famously loved camellias and even wore one pinned to her waistband. Today there’s a Chanel jewelry line with the flower’s namesake and with this (partial) statement: “Gabrielle Chanel was seduced by the camellia. With no fragrance or thorns, it is a flower of simplicity and purity.” Don’t just decorate with a vase of camellias or a bouquet accented with the beautiful blossom, wear one in your hair or pin one to your jacket or blouse as a boutonniere. There’s nothing more elegant than accessorizing with fresh flowers!
Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) wrote of camellias (more specifically white ones) and compared them to Grecian marbles—smooth, cold, and precious. Many of the white varieties are actually double blossoms. Since they bloom on a bush, they are covered in dense emerald foliage and woody stems. The color white is synonymous with innocence and purity (perfect for a bride’s bouquet), but, in Japanese culture, white camellias are commonly used as funeral flowers.
In Nature’s poem flowers have each their word
The rose of love and beauty sings alone;
The violet’s soul exhales in tenderest tone;
The lily’s one pure simple note heard.
The cold Camellia only, stiff and white,
Rose without perfume, lily without grace,
When chilling winter shows his icy face,
Blooms for a world that vainly seeks delight.
Yet, in a theatre, or ball-room light,
Above some stately woman’s raven hair,
Whose noble form fulfills the heart’s desire,
Like Grecian marbles warmed by Phidian fire.
Fun, Helpful Facts
- Camellia bushes thrive in shady spots rather than in direct sunlight.
- Don’t forget to prune your camellia shrubs.
- Native to eastern and southern parts of Asia, the camellia almost resembles a mandala; these geometric flowers have a perfectly symmetrical design of soft petals. Pink, red and white are the most common camellia colors. They do vary, though, as there are three thousand hybrids (the most popular being the Japanese and Sasanqua camellias). The oil from the Japanese camellia (also known as the “Japonica” plant) has long been used as a beauty treatment in hair care products.
- Camellias mostly bloom in the spring, fall, and even winter. There is, however, a rare camellia that blooms during the summer and can be found in the United States.
- “Camellia sinensis” is actually not strictly for ornamental purposes; their leaves are famously used for making tea.
- Since many camellias bloom in the fall, they bring a bit of springtime into your home when cut and arranged in a vase. Display these in sturdy, short containers, as they have woody stems (that aren’t very tall) and large, ornate flowers. This will help to support your beautiful blossoms.
- Floating the blossoms in shallow pools of water is also very chic and popular in the American South. This adds a whole new level of elegance and style to any occasion.
To discover more about all the beautiful flowers you can decorate with, visit Chelsea Flowers and see what they have to offer.
For more information about Coco Chanel’s love of camellias along with other various tips and facts, consult the links below: