Camellias on show

Western Bay of Plenty Camellia Show, Saturday, 9.30am-4pm, Arts & Crafts Centre, Elizabeth St West (near Takitimu Expressway). Admission $3 adults, under-16 free. The show includes plant sales.

People who show flowers are always battling the climate – this year camellia growers have been up against an exceptionally mild start to winter.

But Margaret and Leo Mangos wouldn’t consider giving up showing their blooms. After all, this is the couple who loaded three chilly-bins of their best flowers into the car to take them to a national show in Dunedin … and were “heartbroken” when they found they had only six blooms worth showing.

“We’d packed them as well as we could but I think the vibration of the road was just too much for them,” Leo said.

These days the couple use orchid tubes and Dacron to pack their show blooms in boxes and Margaret is on the lookout for a suitable freezer pad to lay in the bottom.

Their dedication to raising gorgeous flowers in their Brookfield garden paid off in 2000 when their semi-double Raspberry Glow bloom won the champion of champions at the national show.

Camellia Bob Hope. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Margaret joined the Western Bay of Plenty Camellia Society 31 years ago, not long after the couple moved to Omokoroa from the South Island. They moved into town 20 years ago – naming the property Ne Plus Ultra after the street Neplusultra in Leo’s home town of Cromwell.

“At one point the council down there tried to change the name, saying no one could spell it and no one knew what it meant, but it was a part of the town’s history and I’m pleased to say they kept it. ‘Beyond here nothing’ is the Latin translation – little did they know there was gold out there.”

Here, he’s happy to use the French translation which means “nothing better”.

A few years ago Leo counted 312 camellia plants in the garden and reckons that, despite subtractions, the total has since gone up. “You’ve got to weigh up your priorities,” he says about adding more plants. “Camellias or the bowling green?”

Camellia Little Bit. Photo: Sandra Simpson

For Margaret, who is a national camellia judge, it’s simple, although a brush with death in 2001 after a “medical misadventure” means she can no longer bend to dig or weed so is experimenting with camellias in pots and is enjoying expanding her collection of bromeliads.

But her first love will always be camellias. Despite having been released from hospital just three months before, Margaret wasn’t going to miss the national show in August 2001, and Leo included a wheelchair among the packing for the trip to Hamilton.

“I know people complain about the mess that camellias make when the flowers fall on a lawn,” Leo said, “but for me the beauty is just as much about as what’s on the ground as what’s on the tree.

“I love coming out and seeing them lying on the ground all round the tree, it’s magic.”

Leo Mangos reckons waxeyes in hobnail boots dance on his camellia petals. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And if your blooms have been pocked by waxeyes after nectar well, Leo says, it’s like a beautiful girl with acne. The beauty’s still there, you just have to see past the spots.

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

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