With its maritime contacts in the 17th century, Portugal introduced this native plant from China and Japan to the region of the Azores, where today there are over 600 varieties of camellias. The camellias in the Azores have been here for hundreds of years, with many people thinking they are endemic to the region, however that is not the case. The mystery and beauty surrounding camellias have always existed here in Europe. They have still been seen as rare and exotic flowers and symbols of the beauty and wealth beyond the sea. They were first recorded in England in 1739 and from there spread amongst European landowners. The rare beauty and unique varieties of plants made this a favorite amongst aristocratic landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Being practically a floating botanical garden in the middle of the ocean, the island of Sao Miguel provides all the needed characteristics in growing a thriving camellia collection. The island of Sao Miguel, having a higher than average acid pH balance in its soil, has allowed these plants to adorn the vast countryside and private gardens of this unique island. Here you can explore 600 varieties of Camellias that adorn the walkways and gardens of some of the island’s most beautiful locations.
The island hosts an annual Camellia Expo, which brings in garden enthusiasts from all over the world to explore these unique, colorful flowers. Some gardens worth exploring in the region with the most extensive collection of camellias are the Jose do Canto garden and palace in Ponta Delgada and the Terra Nostra garden in Furnas, which has the most comprehensive private camellia collection in all of Portugal. These plants do not need to be only cultivated in greenhouses, like many locations throughout Europe, where the plant is popular yet does not grow outside. The wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors of these plants makes it a unique and personal choice in which plants you want to cultivate if you decide to plant these in your garden. It is recommended to plant them North or North-West while avoiding areas with heavy wind. That is one of the many obstacles to ensuring these plants grow large and healthy. The botanists in the region have mastered the art of cultivating these plants with much time and effort to avoid areas with heavy ocean winds that may cause premature rusting of the plants.
The paved walkways at the 29 acre garden in Furnas are the ideal spot to explore these plants while being surrounded by thousands of endemic and native trees and flowers of the region. This is an 18th century garden that has been continually restored and enhanced in its over 200-year history. This secret location has always been a favorite amongst European nobility due to the mineral pools’ health properties in the surrounding gardens. The landed gentry made a point of creating elaborate botanical gardens filled with hundreds of varieties of these beautiful species for their guests to enjoy on their trans-Atlantic crossovers. This is a must-see place for any garden lover who wants to enhance their understanding of the plant and admire its beauty.