The flowering season of the camellia, from autumn to spring, especially between January and March, makes it the protagonist of gardens in winter. A long time ago this flower of Asian origin found a true home in Galicia. The plant did so well in these parts that it became fashionable in the most distinguished gardens, especially in the province of Pontevedra. Later, its use would spread in parks, streets… Cunqueiro already said that the camellia was «the flower of the Rías Baixas and of the whole of Galicia».
The Camellia Route is a tour of several of these gardens, where we will find the best specimens of this flower. If we go from north to south, we start with three destinations in the province of A Coruña and the rest in Pontevedra, which is where there are more. The camellia is also known as «the flower of the pazos», as many of the gardens are in pazos (manor houses), some with a long history and even with their own winery, so the visit goes beyond just contemplating the flowers.
Let’s not forget that, of course, in private gardens you have to make appointments in advance. Let’s go see camellias at these places and we will surely repeat:
Pazo de Mariñán, Bergondo. The pazo and its gardens have been a historic-artistic and monumental complex since 1972. They say that the first eucalyptus trees in Europe were planted in the garden, of French design. In 2021 it obtained the Scientific Tourism Observer certification in the category of historic garden, highlighting the uniqueness of its camellia garden. These, present in the chapel garden, on the terrace of the residential avenue and on the pier, are curiously arranged in circular groups of eight around a central camellia.
Alameda, Santiago de Compostela. It has 66 copies of Camellia japonica. Some rows of camellias, such as the one on Paseo da Ferradura, are more than a century old, as they were planted on the occasion of the Agricultural, Industrial and Artistic Exhibition of 1858.
Pazo de Santa Cruz de Ribadulla, Vedra. It has an authentic forest of camellias, self-made, between waterfalls, fountains and magnolias. The oldest are arranged on the main promenade. The collection has grown over time and now offers more than 200 varieties. Among them, there is a specimen of Camellia japonica with a trunk of 1.90 m in circumference. Since 2020 it is Garden of Excellence of the International Camellia Society.
Pazo de Oca, A Estrada. The japonica, wabisuke and reticulata varieties stand out. The most curious is an old specimen of reticulata, 12 m high, included in the catalog of Árbores senlleiras de Galicia. In addition, it has a 300 m hedge of camellias and a labyrinth.
House-Museum of Rosalía de Castro, Padrón. The most peculiar camellias in the garden are the old camellia next to the monumental fig tree and another one hybrid (reticulata and japonica) that was planted in 1968 and bears the name of the writer. It is of Portuguese origin and has a long flowering period (November-April).
Pazo de Rubiáns, Vilagarcía de Arousa. Apparently, the first camellias arrived in the region as a gift from the Duke of Caminha to the lords of the pazo, in 1830. The camellia garden consists of more than 4,500 specimens. In the pazo there is also wine activity, and natural cosmetics based on camellia. In addition to guided tours, events and tastings are organized. International Camellia Society Garden of Excellence since 2014.
Pazo de Quinteiro da Cruz, Ribadumia. It has more than 5,000 specimens of more than 2,000 varieties of 72 species. It is also dedicated to albariño, cosmetic products based on camellia, and green tea, which is also made with camellia leaves and gromes (Camellia sinensis). So we can also opt for tastings and varied experiences. International Camellia Society Garden of Excellence since 2018.
Pazo da Saleta, Meis. In the garden, the camellias are arranged in the «wild garden» (English style). The garden was created in 1968 by the owners of the manor at the time, Robert and Margaret Gimsom, who, in addition to planting native species, introduced authentic rarities from far away, and of course, camellias. They have more than 300 specimens belonging to 30 species, more than 200 cultivars and over 50 hybrids. With the theme of the camellia, various activities are carried out, such as poetry contests. International Camellia Society Garden of Excellence since 2018.
Pazo de Lourizan, Pontevedra. Currently, the headquarters of the Lourizán Forestry Research Center is located here. In addition to the botanical garden, the architecture of the pazo, by Jenaro de la Fuente, is noteworthy. In the gardens, of a romantic type, there are more than 150 specimens of Camellia japonica, most of them classic varieties prior to 1950. Among them, one is 20 m high.
Pazo de Soutomaior, Soutomaior. The gardens feature 18 century-old camellias. The protagonist is a specimen with a cup of 15 m in diameter. Little by little, the collection of camellias has grown, coming from many parts of the world, and now there are 400 specimens. It has been an International Camellia Society Garden of Excellence, since 2012, and a Historic Observer Garden, since 2020.
O Castro Park, Vigo. In Vigo, the camellia has a great presence, for example in the long street of Camelias. The urban park of O Castro already had specimens but, in 2014, after the 50th International Camellia Contest and Exhibition, held in the city, many more were planted, organized in a «commemorative route by country». In addition, the 100% Vigo variety was inaugurated: the olive camellia, in front of the park, at the beginning of Camelias street.
Pazo Quiñones de León, Vigo. The most unique camellia in the garden is the one brought by the Marquis of Alcedo in 1860. It came from Portuguese nurseries and was already 50 years old at the time. In 1960, the landscaper Hubert B. Owens spoke of it as the «methuselah» of the camellias, due to its age and size, and the name stuck. The Methuselah is included in the Catalog of Senlleiras Trees of Galicia.