Q&A with Celeste Richard
City of Residence: Macon
Occupation: Executive Director, Massee Lane Gardens and the American Camellia Society, Fort Valley
QUESTION: What is Massee Lane Gardens?
ANSWER: Its the historic home of the American Camellia Society just south of Fort Valley. It occupies 150 total acres and is basically a public botanical garden. The main feature is the camellia gardens, but we have other specialty gardens as well.
QUESTION: Is there admission?
ANSWER: Yes. $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and its free for children under 12.
QUESTION: How did Massee Lane Gardens start?
ANSWER: In the early 1900s, this was Massee Farms. In the 1930s David Strother bought acreage and had a working farm. He loved camellias and created a garden around his house. He had no children so someone asked him what he was going to do with the farm when he died. They suggested he donate it to the American Camellia Society, and he thought that was a great idea.
QUESTION: How long has there been a society?
ANSWER: It was founded in 1945 in Macon. I believe theres a plaque somewhere downtown stating the first camellia show was there. The land and garden here was donated in late 1966.
QUESTION: How much garden space is there?
ANSWER: Now there are 30 acres of actual gardens with probably 10 acres of camellias. The rest are specialty gardens.
QUESTION: What are some of the specialty gardens?
ANSWER: A rose garden, Japanese garden, day lily garden, childrens garden, an environmental garden and others.
QUESTION: Are visitors always welcome?
ANSWER: Absolutely. People are welcome to come and walk around, take pictures, relax and enjoy the gardens. Groups can arrange tours with a horticulturist, and we can provide a box lunch. We host weddings and events here. Members of the society get free admission so local members often just come out to sit and relax.
Our mission is to educate and promote camellias, so we hold events throughout the year such as workshops and a Festival of Camellias in February. The camellia season is October through April, and we have thousands of blooms, but weve designed the garden so there is always something in season.
QUESTION: Camellias bloom in winter?
ANSWER: That makes them very unusual. They bloom opposite what most flowers do around here and are often referred to as winters rose. They have color when everything else is dead.
QUESTION: Any camellia fun facts?
ANSWER: Tea comes from camellias. The species Camellia sinensis is where we get tea. Hot tea, iced tea, tea you buy to help you sleep, British tea, sun tea -- all the tea in the world actually comes from camellias.
QUESTION: Does that mean camellias originated in China?
ANSWER: They did. China and nearby countries exported it all over the world. Charleston, S.C., has one of the largest of the few working tea plantations still existing.
Camellia oil is another byproduct and is like olive oil. That species is Camellia oleifera. You can cook with it, and theyre doing research into industrial uses. It has a higher flash point than olive oil and a longer life span than some other oils.
QUESTION: Whats the most unusual camellia?
ANSWER: Two are. One is the Black Magic and is very unique in that its a deep dark purplish red and the petals are waxy. People often ask us if its fake, its so different.
A famous show circuit camellia is the Frank Houser.
QUESTION: Being headquarters for the society, are the gardens a big tourist destination?
ANSWER: People come from all over the world, and it makes a great day trip for people who live locally.
QUESTION: Where exactly are the gardens?
ANSWER: From Fort Valley, go south out of town on Ga. 49 about 5½ miles. Were on the left. Our phone number is (478) 967-2358. Our website is americancamellias.org.
QUESTION: Anything else going on at the gardens?
ANSWER: We also feature one of the largest public displays of Boehm porcelain in the United States. Edward Boehm began sculpting porcelain as a hobby and mostly did nature and wildlife pieces, mostly birds and flowers like camellias and day lilies. We have over 300 pieces, plus pieces from other well-known artists.
Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com.