Tea Time at the Garden

A wonderful article from Carol Nierman

(Third in the container tree series.)

Many of us enjoy refreshing tea during our day, either a warm infusion to get us going in the morning, or a tall glass of iced tea after a hot afternoon in the garden.  Some gardeners have been known to take a break from mid-day gardening to stop by an eatery for a tall glass of tea.  What gardener wouldn’t want to grow their own tea?

Tea plants, usually called bushes, shouldn’t be confused with what we commonly call tea tree, which is a marshy plant from Australia that is harvested for its oil.  The tea plant, originally from China, is actually a camellia.  The official name is camellia senensis, and it looks and behaves just like the ornamental camellia, except that the flowers are white and much less showy.  The leaves are dark green and shiny, and they stay green all year around.  In the wild, the tea bush gets to be quite large.  Most tea plants in cultivation for the tea leaves keep the trees pruned way back so it is easier for the farmers to harvest the top leaves.  Your tea plant won’t need such vigorous pruning because the size of the container will determine the final size of the plant.   If you have ever been to Descanso gardens when the camellias are in bloom, you know how large the plant can get if it is allowed to grow unimpeded for a long time.  On plantations, the tea bushes are planted under large shade trees, so you will also want to put your container in partial shade.  The plant is not very picky, but it does require more water than a desert or Mediterranean tree.

The tea plant is one garden item that I have not found at any local nursery, so you will have to mail order the live plant or obtain some seeds to start your own.  Make sure you get the real deal, and let the grower know that you want the plant for harvesting the leaves to make tea.  There is another type of tea bush that hails from Assam India.  This tea is called assam and is used to make strong and dark English breakfast tea.  The assam plant is tropical and needs lots of heat and humidity and doesn’t so as well in our climate as the Chinese variety.  If you are in love with English breakfast tea, you might want to grow that type of tree on your home patio, where you can control for frost better than in your community garden plot.


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