Pretty In Pink

Rare flower brought to the U.K. by Shepherd's Bush man

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            Middlemist's Red

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One of the world's rarest camellias, brought to the U.K. by a Shepherd's Bush man nearly 200 years ago, is now in bloom – but the public will have to wait until next spring to see it.

The 'Middlemist's Red' camellia, brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Shepherd's Bush nurseryman John Middlemist, is at the Chiswick House conservatory, which is currently undergoing restoration work. The camellia is thought to be one of only two surviving examples of this variety in the world. The other one is in Waitangi, New Zealand.

Fiona Crumely, Head Gardener at Chiswick House explained why Middlemist would have brought the plant back to the U.K. in the 19th century: “The search for new and exotic varieties coming from many parts of the world was a big driving force. The nurseries used to find the newest, the most exotic, the most expensive of varieties for the wealthy to grow and it was a big driver for sea captains too to bring back these plants which they knew they could sell at high value if they could get them back to England alive and well,” she told the BBC.

Middlemist originally gave the plant to Kew Gardens. It is no longer there but a descendant of the original plant found its way to Chiswick some time after 1823. Crumely said there could well be more examples of the plant in circulation. “The camellias in here were propagated at periods in their history and they were sold to members of the public so it's very possible that there is somebody around who has a plant of Middlemist red growing in their garden,” she said.

Despite its name, the Middlemist's Red is actually a deep pink colour and it blooms for around one month each year.

Plant-lovers will have to wait until next year to see it as Chiswick’s 300 foot long conservatory, originally built in 1813 for the Sixth Duke of Devonshire, is currently undergoing a £12m restoration.

The conservatory, which is home to 36 camellias, including seven so rare that they have not even been identified, is due to reopen in June.

10 March 2010