19th Century Tuscan Camellias
Flora Toscana, always looking for new crops, has began the cultivation of some particular varieties of Camellia japonica, varieties so called “ancient” as they are being reproduced from cuttings of plants that were part of the gardens of the Villas and Palaces in Tuscany, dating back to the 19th century. A valuable work of preservation and perpetuation of old varieties obtained by the members of Flora Toscana thanks also to the cooperation of the owners of Villa Mansi, Villa Mazzarosa, Villa Reale of Capannori Lucca and Palazzo Guicciardini in Florence.
For Flora Toscana, located between Lucca and Florence and deeply tied to its territory, to be able to grow these old varieties is not only an opportunity for it’s grower members , but a real act to save from genetic erosion a heritage that is an important piece of history. The 19th Century Tuscan Camellias are varieties obtained in Italy and best suited to the climates of Europe, with excellent flowering, no falling bud before flowering, and that can easily survive our summers and our winters. Flora Toscana offers a high standard quality and respects environmental practices, as it has recently been awarded the Global Gap certification of its entire production of potted plants.
Camellia japonica L. (family Theaceae) is an arboreal-shrub native to Japan and China, where it has been cultivated since ancient times. Camellia was imported into Europe, specifically in England, shortly before 1747, and in a few years this plant spread fast across Europe, setting off a fashion craze equal perhaps to that for tulips in 1600, thanks also to the Dumas novel “The Lady of the Camellias” written in 1848 and to the opera “La Traviata” composed by Verdi in 1853. In Italy, the first plant officially planted in the park of the Caserta Royal Palace was the variety “Celebratissima” in the 1760s. From Caserta the fashion and the passion for this plant quickly spread throughout Italy, involving many amateurs especially among the higher and richer classes, and the easiness of it’s hybridization and spontaneous mutation led many to seek new varieties. The centre point in Italy, thanks to the many growers and members of the aristocracy fascinated by this flower, was Florence, followed by Milan, with the collection of Dr. Sacco (12,000 plants that unfortuantely no longer exist because of the city’s urban development), Rome, Lake Maggiore, Genoa and Lucca . The longevity of the Camellia has enabled the perpetuation of these glorious historical cultivars of the nineteenth century to the present day. In Italy this century has been closely tied to the Camellias as it became the symbol flower during Italy’s unification in 1861 (because of it’s colours red, white and green foliage the same as the italian flag) , until modernity and the wars of the twentieth century swept everything away, leaving the Camellia and its fashion in complete oblivion. Fortunately in areas like Verbano and Lucca , thanks to a favourable climate, old Camellia plants have reached us untouched and in the eighties and ninetys of the twentieth century the interest for this plant has grown bringing the Camelia to be re-appreciated and counting a growing number of amateurs worldwide.
Tuscany has been since the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the next century, one of the Italian regions that has had the highest number of fans and Camellia growers. Florence was the capital of the most famous collections such as those of the Marquis Ridolfi in Bibbiani Mannor in Empoli, those of Professor Emilio Santarelli and Cavalier Franchetti. Not less important are the collections of Bouturlin , Franco Rossi , Guicciardini, Gattai, Luzzati, Magnani, Sodini etc. The most renowned nurseries in that period were based in Florence: Burnier-Grilli, Arnaud, Franchetti, Luzzati, Pagliai, Mercatelli, Scarlatti, and their “hot houses” in which they cultivated the richest possible range of camellias, Tuscan and European. Unfortunately, the Florentine collections today are not visible and many varieties have been definitely lost, also due to the Florentine soil and climate which aren’t ideal for this plant, they were infact grown in pots for these reasons. Lucca has also had its Camellia amateurs : Torrigiani, Buonvisi, Balbani, Burlamacchi, Mansi, Garzoni Venturi and others. In Capannori, near Lucca, there were Borrini and Orsi. Thanks to the catalogues of the nineteenth century growers, after the oblivion of the wars and the economic boom, the researchers were able to classify and recognize the ancient cultivars and to name the old existing plants.