THE first warm spell of spring brings excitement and anticipation for the gardener as the home straight of winter comes into view and our thoughts and activities focus towards the exciting seasons ahead.

It's the time of year when you can expect to see the plentiful blooms of the camellia.

The aptly named camellia variety "Anticipation" beautifully sums up those winter months watching those promising buds waiting to burst into colour at long last. How well worth the wait they are too!

Surprisingly for a plant with such sumptuous blooms they are not a particularly challenging plant to grow, and they are even as hardy as a laurel.

By nature camellias have a very compact root-ball, which makes them ideal for container growing. There's no wonder they must surely rank as one of our best-selling plants for this purpose.

The key requirement to successfully grow camellias is an acid soil, and while borderline soils can be improved with peat or other organic materials those of you blessed with anything less should focus on growing in containers.

Using Arthur Bowers' ericaceous compost will provide an ideal growing medium and regular use of a liquid feed containing iron, such as Miracid, will keep your plant in tip-top condition.

Our range of camellias is among the finest in the land, expertly grown at our Waterers Nursery here in Bagshot, famed for its quality ericaceous plants.

Choose from the more classic single and semi-double flower forms or the exquisite double or anemone formed blooms.

To complement the many fabulous white, pink and red varieties are some very striking multi-coloured blooms, which all makes the camellia a very diverse plant indeed.

There are two main species of camellia in this country.

The varieties of Camellia japonica are the most common, which are generally the more compact plants and comprising the widest variation in colour.

The Camellia x williamsii varieties, which are mainly pink, are however faster and freer growing and perhaps the more hardy of the two.

My recommended shortlist (of both species):

Adolphe Audusson. Blood red, very reliable.

Anticipation. Tall and bushy, large double deep rose pink blooms.

Donation. Large semi-double pink/peach blooms.

Lady Vansittart. Whitish pink striped darker pink.

Leonard Messel. Large semi double pink flowers, very free flowering.

JC Williams. Single soft pink flowers.

If you would like to learn more about Notcutts Nurseries and our plant production methods check out our website www.notcutts.co.uk.

Finally, don't forget to maximise impact in your garden by planting spring flowering bulbs with your camellias, whether they be old or new.

The deep blue of Anemone blanda is my favourite (which combines so well with the pinks), but there are many potential partners to choose.

While many shy away from partnering yellow and pink why not be brave and plant some daffs with camellias for a really cheerful spring display.