Nearly a lost art, waxing camellias is one of the first memorable things I learned when I moved from Virginia to the Deep South (eons ago) and joined a garden club. My instructor, a grande dame of the Columbia, South Carolina Garden Council, was a fun and vivacious flower-lover who was eager to share her knowledge. The gift of her tutelage was not lost on me; it is her enduring legacy.
Creating the porcelain-like bloom of a waxed camellia is relatively simple, but instructions must be followed to the letter to ensure success. Before you begin, note that pink, white, and variegated blooms are usually more successful than red, and that single and semi-double forms will produce a better result than double flowers.
Always collect flowers early in the morning when they are at their peak. If necessary, clean them with a dry, soft brush or gently blow away dirt and debris. Trim stems to 3 or 4-inches long and remove all but a couple of leaves. Keep stems in water while preparing the wax.
To begin the process, heat five pounds of paraffin wax with one and a half pints of mineral oil in a double boiler or a heavy, four-quart saucepan. Once melted, cool or heat the wax to exactly 138 degrees F. Temperature is critical. If too hot, the wax will scorch the bloom; if too cool, it will coat the flower too thickly.
When the temperature of the wax is correct, hold leaves away from the flower and dip the bloom into the mixture with a sweeping motion. Twirl the flower as you move it through the mix, being careful not to touch the hot pan, and then lift it sideways from the wax. Give the bloom a gentle shake or two before dipping the bloom into a bowl of ice-cold water. Again, plunge the flower with a sweeping sideways motion to preserve the natural shape of the flower. Hold the bloom in the cold water for a few seconds, and then place it aside to dry.
Waxing a camellia bloom will preserve its beauty for several weeks. Handle flowers gently, however, as the petals will turn brown if the wax seal is broken. Other blooms can be preserved in a similar manner. As the weather warms and more plants flower, experiment with the branches of quince and forsythia and even stems of narcissus or other bulbs.