Name: Double ‘Debbie’

Botanical name: Camellia x williamsii ‘Debbie’. This is a variety of group of camellias raised by crossing two species, Camellia japonica and Camellia saluenensis. The latter is a hardy species from mainland China, whereas the Japanese camellia is much less hardy, easily damaged by frost in spring, with the flower buds often not opening. The original Williams’ crosses were made in Cornwall by JC Williams in the 1920s and many of the varieties used today were bred originally in that programme.

Plant family: Camellia is a member of the Theaceae (the tea) family which is named after the type species, Camellia sinensis, the species used for making tea, both green tea and black tea. The tips of the growing points of the bushes are picked to make the popular infusion. Only the Chinese tea species, which has small white flowers, is used for making tea. Occasionally, tea bush plants are offered for sale. These generally are not hardy and must be grown undercover of glass. Australian tea tree and New Zealand’s tea tree are not related.

Decorative features

‘Debbie’ is a very decorative hybrid camellia, having good plant shape, well-shaped foliage when not in flower, and the splendid display when it is. The flowers are instantly attractive; large, up to 12cm across the centre of the flower, filled with the dome-shaped ruffled flower centre.

This is often described as ‘paeony-flowered’, which it is, meaning the rounded mass of flowers at the centre of each. But paeony itself exhibits that form because of the doubling up of the central stamens. Camellia to has lots of stamens and can easily afford for most of them to become like narrow, smaller petals, creating the double flowered, peony-flower appearance.

Garden use

‘Debbie’ is used as a highly decorative large shrub, that flowers from its earliest years. In fact, it is common for this plant to carry flowers fully open on tiny cuttings made for propagation. Incidentally, ‘Debbie’ and many other Williams’ hybrids root readily from cuttings made in mid to late summer, and even produce plants from root cuttings also.

Generally used as a single plant on its own in a border of shrubs or mixed shrubs and flowers, it is a beacon of colour, that flowers in March until May, flowering later than some of the other Williams’ hybrids.

The flowers are described as rose pink, which is a bright, lively colour and the puffy, raise centre of the flowers can be somewhat variable, being less full. If the weather the previous summer was poor. This variety looks great in a pot in a greenhouse or conservatory in flower with its upright shape and beautiful, sparkling flowers

Site requirements

Apart from being much hardier than the Japanese species, ‘Debbie’ and its cousins are much more tolerant of acid soil. These varieties can cope with some lime in the soil, unlike the Japanese kinds which tend to turn yellow in iron deficiency, and may not flower at all as a result.

Soil requirements

Not too rich, moist, open soil, whether in a greenhouse or in the open garden outdoors. Plenty of well decayed organic material should be dug in at planting and used around the spread of the branches to help reduce the limyness of the soil.

Getting it right:growing cabbages

Hispi cabbage.

Gardeners love to grow large vegetables. For instance, cabbage crops in gardens tend to be vastly too big. Even after handing out cabbage heads to anybody in the street or neighbourhood willing to take them, there is still enough to feed a lot of people.

At the same time, even though cabbage is not a very exciting vegetable, it can be tricky to grow as it is prone to a number of troublesome pests and diseases. And so, the grower of cabbage can be a little discomfited if problems arise.

One of the reasons why gardeners try to grow big cabbage heads is that the advice on growing down through the decades is largely based on commercial growing advice; maximising yield per acre. Whereas what is needed in the modern kitchen is a neat little head about the same size as a grapefruit to feed a couple or three people.

With this in mind, choose two varieties: ‘Hispi’, a pointed early summer cabbage and ‘Minicole’, a round-headed, long-lasting summer cabbage. Raise the plants in small pots, cell-trays or even an egg box or two. When planting out, plant these young plants 20cm apart, or even less to give very small heads. Both varieties are of excellent flavour and small plants are more easily covered and kept free of weeds. When picking a head, cut it above the lowest leaves to allow the little plants to sprout and produce late small heads of cabbage.

This week's reminders

Trees, shrubs and roses

Rose bushes and repeat-flowering climbers, should be pruned in the next two weeks, if not already done. The deciduous tree planting season still has a while to run and this is a good time to plant, provided the ground is not too wet. Check trees for ivy and remove it.


Old flower stems can be tidied away or they can be left on the soil surface as a mulch. Sow some sweet pea seeds for an early crop of flowers this summer. The lifting and dividing of over-grown herbaceous flowers can continue if the soil is not too wet. Start begonia tubers.


There has been considerable grass growth over winter even if the ground has been very wet. Lawn areas should be mown as early as possible in the year. The grass sward can be very heavy. Mosskiller can be applied at this stage, with feeding later for grass growth.

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

With a lot of wet weather, it has been difficult to dig ground for vegetables. Early potatoes benefit from being sprouted before planting. Fruit trees and bushes can be planted. Sow seeds of early varieties of cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce and onions in a tunnel.

Greenhouse and house plants

Check for signs of growth and water well any plant that is showing such signs. Permanent greenhouse plants that have grown too large can be pruned back in the next few weeks. Greenhouse peach trees should have the first flowers gently pollinated. Wash the glass.

Read more

In the garden with Gerry Daly: Straffan snowdrops