Strictly for the birds (and bees)? Winter-flowering camellias
In July I spent $55 on bellbird food. For that I got three single-flowered camellias – red Crimson King, pink Sugar and Spice, and white Setsugekka. Crimon King and Sugar and Spice have been planted near a white single camellia which can be seen from the main kitchen window. It flowers in winter and is a popular bellbird ‘pub’. I researched the camellias to make sure that they are healthy bird food (rhododendrons, alas, are toxic to bellbirds and tui) and they do feature in the lists of good shrubs to plant for native birds. They have to be single camellias, as the doubles and semi-doubles are no use for birds (or bees) who need easy access to nectar and pollen.
The plus side for humans is that most single camellias are very well-behaved shrubs which are easy to keep a good size and shape. The majority of camellias flower in spring, and some in autumn, but for my money having flowers in winter is worth it for the great visual pick-me-up they provide, as well as the bird food. There are literally dozens of different varieties of single-flowered camellias available in garden centres, from species with small (but prolific) flowers like C. transnokoensis through to larger (and locally-bred) brand new varieties like Sugar and Spice. Some are even scented (in their gentle camellia way). So if up until now your response to the camellia family has been ‘Meh’, please take a closer look at what the winter-flowering singles can add to to your garden sights – and sounds.