Camellia collection & Conservatory

The rare camellias in our grade 1 listed Conservatory are one of the oldest collections under glass in the Western world.

The Camellias

Discover the 27 heritage camellias in our world-renowned collection. 

Brought by ship from China in the 18th century, exotic camellia plants were a luxury commodity. The Duke of Devonshire built a 300 foot glass house, one of the largest in the world at the time, to protect his collection of plants.

Enjoy the riot of colour when the trees bloom in early Spring, heralding our annual Camellia Show.

Flowering camellias have been cultivated in gardens in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam for thousands of years. The trees became known as “Camellia” in the 18th century in honour of Georg Josef Kamel, a Moravian Jesuit apothecary and botanist, who worked in the Far East.

Our historic trees

All of our camellias are of the camellia japonica family. 

The original collection was created by the 6th Duke of Devonshire and his gardener, William Lindsay from plants form Alfred Chandler’s nursery in Vauxhall in central London.

Today, our collection includes 33 different varieties, including examples of many of the earliest varieties introduced to Britain.

Using stem girth as an approximate guide to the age of each plant, we believe that the ‘Variegata’, ‘Imbricata’, ‘Chandleri’, ‘Alba Plena’, ‘Pompone’, ‘Aitonia’, ‘Corallina’, ‘Rubra Plena’ and ‘Rubra’ trees all date back to the Duke’s 1828 collection.

One of the rarest plants in the world

The deep pink camellia japonica known as ‘Middlemist’s Red’ was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Londoner John Middlemist, a nurseryman from Shepherds Bush. It is believed to have been presented by one of his descendants to Chiswick sometime after 1823, as the Sixth Duke added to his growing collection.

The only other known plant of this variety grows in the gardens of Treaty House, Waitangi, New Zealand.

The Italian Garden

The Grade I listed Conservatory was designed by the architect Samuel Ware (who later designed the Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly) in 1813. At 300ft long, it was one of the earliest large glass houses to be built and is a forerunner of Decimus Burton’s glass house at Kew and Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace.

The 6th Duke also commissioned a young designer, Lewis Kennedy to lay out a semi-circular ‘Italian’ garden in front of the Conservatory. Completed in 1814 it is an early example of the reintroduction of formal gardens to England.

The garden is characterised by its symmetrical formality and intricate pattern of flower beds. Stone urns on plinths are set against an enclosing semi-circular path.


These extraordinary plants were in danger of being lost as the Conservatory fell into ruin in the late 20th century. Three local members of the International Camellia Society stepped in to look after them. They saved the camellias, and paved the way for the major restoration of Chiswick House Gardens and the Conservatory, which was completed in June 2010.
More about restoration
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