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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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