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Sacramento's oldest camellia gets a new honor

Shown before its move, the Sutter Memorial camellia greeted thousands of new mothers and other patients outside the hospital at 51st and F streets. (Photos courtesy Sutter Memorial Medical Center)

'Sutter Memorial Memories' is one special (and big) bush

Sacramento’s oldest camellia is officially back where it belongs – with a new name.

“Sutter Memorial Memories” is the varietal name chosen for this one-of-a-kind camellia, which grew for generations outside Sutter Memorial Hospital. Tree size, the 10-foot bush now will greet visitors to the Sutter Park neighborhood, the new development that was built on the former hospital grounds.

The camellia is in bloom once more -- and now has a varietal name:
Sutter Memorial Memories.
On Thursday, hospital staff and friends held a dedication ceremony for the transplanted camellia on F Street near 51st Street. A plaque was unveiled detailing the plant’s long history and importance.

“It looks surprisingly good, really nice,” said Camellia Society President Julie Vierra, who took part in the ceremony honoring the transplanted bush. “It’s enormous.”

This is the second major move for this camellia. It was first transplanted from K and 28th streets, the site of the original Sutter Hospital, to East Sacramento in 1937. Believed to be an unnamed sport or seedling, the bush was a gift from Dr. A.R. Boscoe and grew outside his hospital office. Considering the bush was fully mature before its first move, the Sutter Memorial camellia is at least in its 90s and may be over a century old.

Nicknamed “Sacramento’s Baby Hospital,” Sutter was the birthplace of nearly 350,000 babies. Known as Sutter Maternity Hospital, it changed its name to Sutter Memorial as it expanded its services.

“The camellia bloomed every late winter to the delight of staff, new mothers and visitors, signaling the new life that Sutter Memorial was known for,” said hospital spokesman Gary Zavoral. “In addition, Sutter Memorial was where many of the region’s first heart surgeries were performed, including the first heart transplant in Sacramento.”

But when Sutter Memorial planned to move into its new Midtown facilities in 2015, redevelopment put the Sutter camellia at risk. It had to be moved out of the way as the hospital’s buildings were demolished and the new Sutter Park neighborhood went up.

A group of Sutter nurses worked with the Camellia Society of Sacramento and developer Stonebridge Properties to save the humongous and venerable plant. The Sutter camellia was almost as wide as it was tall with roots to match.

Moving such an old and big camellia – then keeping it alive and replanting it – was an extremely difficult operation. BrightView Landscape Services dug up the camellia and maintained it for more than a year until its replanting in December 2018, supervised by Randy Sater of Stonebridge.

Camellia expert Bob Peralta of BrightView checked on the plant regularly, making sure everything was OK. Showing its hardiness, the camellia not only survived, but thrived once it was re-rooted in East Sacramento.

The March 5 dedication ceremony coincided with its first full bloom in its new Sutter Park home.

“I’m amazed at how big it is and how healthy,” Zavoral said. “It might be the biggest as well as oldest camellia in the Camellia City.”


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Garden Checklist for week of June 23

Get to work in the mornings while it’s still cool.

* Irrigate early in the day; your plants will appreciate it.

* Generally, tomatoes need deep watering two to three times a week, but don't let them dry out completely. That can encourage blossom-end rot.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the early hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Avoid pot “hot feet.” Place a 1-inch-thick board under container plants sitting on pavement. This little cushion helps insulate them from radiated heat.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce heat stress.

* Cut back Shasta daisies after flowering to encourage a second bloom in the fall.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes. 

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

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