Imagine a flower that looks as luscious as a whipped cream topping. Now imagine that feast for the eyes as large as six inches across and again as miniature dessert-flowers no more than 1 1/2 inces in diameter. Now imagine once more those confections in deepest reds, snowy whites, seashell pinks.
This range of rich color and sumptuousness of bloom make camellias one of the most delightful landscape shrubs in central California. Add to that their charming habit of blooming in the chilly winter months from November to March, and you have a flower for enthusiasts to simply rave about.
The Camellia Society of Modesto does that each year in March. For two days, the very best of camellias are on display and in competition at the Camellia Cavalcade at the Ernest and Julio Gallo Winery Administration Grounds in Modesto.
I attended the 42nd Annual Cavalcade just to marvel at the hundreds of perfect blossoms. There were categories for anyone to enter their favorite blossom, from Junior Division for children to the more stringent category of the Camellia Society Members.
Blossoms are presented in a small cup, sometimes with one or two gloss dark green leaves attached. Some categories have single blooms on display; in others there are three or five perfectly matching flowers.
The competition is challenging, for the blossoms donﾴt last long off their original stem, so they must be picked the night before or the morning of the show. Wind or rain can bruise the blossoms into a brown mush, so a competing shrub may have to be protected for days before the competition. Warm weather will slow the blooming, too, so having a show in mid-March when temperatures can easily rise to the eighties is an additional trial.
Looking at all the competing blossoms even quickly took well over an hour. And some were so stunningly beautiful that a quick glance simply wouldnﾴt do. The judges for the show had a tough job in determining the winners, because all of the entries were exquisite examples of camellia culture. The Winnersﾴ Tables were laden with the prize blossoms and trophies they garnered, but no less spectacular were the Honors Tables, crowded with runners-up.
I know that the criteria for judging include size, degree of openness of blossom, spacing and integrity of petals, as well as color and shape. But with such hundreds of seemingly perfect flowers, I was left wondering, "However do they choose?"
This blossom was their choice for Best in Show.