The “winter rose” was showcased Saturday in Middle Georgia’s backyard with the debut of a new trail that could become a boost for tourism.
The Georgia Camellia Trail opened Saturday with a ceremony in Fort Valley attended by members of the American Camellia Society as well as state and local officials, including first lady Sandra Deal. The ceremony coincided with start of the monthlong Festival of Camellias featuring several hundred varieties and more than 1,000 camellia plants on display at the Massee Lane Gardens.
The first camellias typically bloom in the fall, and throughout the winter other varieties of the flower come to full blossom.
“When everything is all dead, brown and gloomy that is when the camellia blooms to show her beauty,” said Celeste Richard, executive director of the American Camellia Society and Massee Lane Gardens.
The trail is an effort by the Georgia Department of Tourism to draw more people to rural Middle Georgia.
“Georgia now has a camellia trail for the whole state,” American Camellia Society President Jim Campbell said. “The American Camellia Society initiated one for the United States a number of years back and this is going to help tourism tremendously and expand the knowledge of people about camellias and what camellias mean to Georgia.”
It was about an hour drive from Eastman to Fort Valley to tour the camellia gardenss Saturday morning for Jim and Sue Neff. It’s not uncommon for the couple to visit places close and far from home to catch the latest camellia blooms.
“We’ve gone to places like Fort Walton Beach (Florida) to go to camellia festivals,” Jim Neff. “The flowers are beautiful.”
Saturday’s ribbon-cutting celebration included a dance performance by Mirai Kanai Ta Taiko, out of Atlanta, and a tea ceremony led by the Japan-America Society of Georgia. The flowers are plentiful in some parts of Asia, and in the United States are popular in the south.
“You have this wonderful mixture of mixture of cold winter and beautiful blooms that come in different colors, different shapes, and different sizes,” Campbell said.
Even after the festival ends this month, people can tour the camellia gardens and others featuring azaleas, roses, daylily hybrids, and others through October.
“I represent a lot of small rural communities and to have this type of facility, the Georgia camellia trail, going through this part of the state is awesome and amazing,” state Rep. Patty Bentley, D-Butler, said. “In rural Georgia, especially in my district, we’re lacking in a lot of resources but tourism really helps us to show the world what we have to offer.”