Camellia festival brings flower’s admirers in Middle Georgia together to buy and to learn

FORT VALLEY — Fans of the flowering plant meandered along the brick-paved paths at Massee Lane Gardens, admiring the camellias bursting with blooms of pink and white and red.

Only a stiff, cool breeze reminded them that winter lingered yet a little while longer.

Outside the canopy of green, in the courtyard of the American Camellia Society headquarters, a group of gardening enthusiasts gathered, some with notebooks in hand, to learn the latest about cutting, grafting and rooting their favorite plant. Sunday’s symposium marked the midway point of the annual Festival of Camellias, which runs through February.

Richard Paul made the trip over from Macon with a group of family and friends.

“I love ‘em. I’ve got them all over my yard,” Paul said.

His collection grew a little larger Sunday afternoon.

“His famous last words at lunch were, ‘We’re not going to buy any,’ and there are four sitting by the car,” said his wife, Dawn.

“We’ll find some place,” he said, “even if we have to dig up some driveway and move some cars.”

The American Camellia Society grounds feature a museum, gift shop, library, gallery, residence for the gardens’ horticulturist and two greenhouses.

The most popular attraction, however, clearly are the botanical gardens.

Edith Eddleman of North Carolina, a friend of Massee Lane Gardens horticulturist Douglas Ruhren, was in Atlanta for a camellia show Saturday and decided to visit the festival.

“It is quite a collection.” she said. “It’s something to see so many in flower. ... I’m having quite a good time here.”

Eddleman had pad and pencil in hand, jotting down notes about blooms.

She called the “Fragrant Pink,” and its sweet, pleasing fragrance, a “nice surprise.”

“I write down the things I really like because you never know when you might have room,” she said. “You never know when a tree might fall down in the garden. You have to look at that as an opportunity.”

Grady Stokes admits he knew little about camellias before he bought a home in nearby Marshallville that had some of the plants in its yard.

He came to a show and saw a bloom “bigger than a luncheon plate.” Now he’s a life member of the American Camellia Society and a show judge.

“Mine in the yard didn’t look like that. I wanted to get those big blooms,” Stokes said.

“That’s how most people get hooked.”

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.