For over three-quarters of a century, the winter Camellia Flower Show organized by the Camellia Society of Santa Clara County (CSSCC) has wowed Santa Clarans and visitors to the Santa Clara Valley with the quality, variety and sheer number of camellias entered in its annual beauty contest.
Show admission is free, and attendees return year after year. They bring along friends, wanting to share the extravaganza of so many perfect camellias in one place.
CSSCC president and show co-chair John Mendoza III, long the driving force behind the show, said that 1,350 camellias adorned the Santa Clara Community Center for the 78th Camellia Flower Show and Plant Sale Feb. 23 – 24.
“We’ve had very difficult weather — fair to freezing and high winds and heavy downpour. Even hail,” said Mendoza. “It’s not good for the flowers, so there have been fewer entries this year, but they are still high quality.”
Santa Clara resident Wendy Wen, a master gardener, brought her friends Nancy Wu from Palo Alto and Wendy Zhang from Los Altos Hills to the show on Saturday.
“I’ve been wanting to come,” said Wu, who has more than 12 bushes — all with white flowers — that came with her house when she bought it. “I never realized there were so many varieties and so beautiful.”
“I like the elegance of the flower and the plant with its dark, glossy leaves,” continued Wu. “Plus, they live a long time.”
“Even though the flower looks so delicate, camellias are one of the tougher plants,” said Mendoza. “They don’t take a lot of care. And a few, like the sasanqua, can even handle full sun.”
Santa Clara’s camellia show is one of the three biggest camellia shows in northern California, along with Modesto (March 16 – 17) and Sacramento, the biggest. The camellias are grown by hobbyists — people who do it for the love of camellias — not professional nurserymen.
Hobbyists from as far as Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Napa, Sonoma, Fresno and San Francisco enter their camellias in the show. All compete for bragging rights and donated “trophies” such as crystal vases and ceramic art pieces.
Top trophies for 2019 were awarded to Mary and Don Bergamini, winning 67 first place ribbons, and to Joan and Don Lesmeister from Carmichael with 35 first place ribbons.
Adeline Kostyanovsky from Santa Clara won both the Youth and Novice First Place Awards. These are categories to encourage the participation of young people and new exhibitors.
The 2019 show was supported by a City of Santa Clara $8,000 grant, which covered facility use.
“We appreciate the City’s long-standing support of our camellia show,” said Mendoza.
Mendoza mentioned that former Santa Clara mayor Matt Talia (1961 – 1963) cultivated a hybrid he named Miss Santa Clara.
“We’re happy to be able to promote the growing of camellias in Santa Clara and offer for sale some that are difficult to find,” said Mendoza.
The Camellia Society meets at 7 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month, September through May, at the historic Headen Inman House, 1509 Warburton Ave., Santa Clara, behind the Triton Museum of Art. For information, call Mendoza at (408) 249-5696 or (408) 203-0011.