Published: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 10:20 p.m.
Jay Ellis, who is chairing this weekend's 26th annual Gainesville Camellia Society show, has been surrounded by camellias all his life - literally.
FYI: Plant show
His parents, Doris and Jay L. Ellis Sr., were involved in the American Camellia Society in the 1970s and their home on Paradise Lake - where Jay Jr. and Debbie now live - is dotted with camellia shrubs, some 50 years old.
"I guess you could say I was born into it. When I was old enough to run away from them, I did. But we got back into them eight years ago," he said.
He and his wife are restoring the gardens on the three acres on the Keystone Heights area lake, and the camellia population numbers "several hundred plants." The Ellises are also now show judges - he for four years, she in her second year.
They plan on entering between 50 and 75 of the beautiful Southern trademarks in this weekend's show - which he hopes will showcase more than 1,800 individual blooms.
Another enthusiast - and that word doesn't begin to describe the passion these people exhibit - is Chuck Ritter, who has lived on Lake Rosa, east of Melrose, for 18 years.
When they purchased the property, he and his wife noticed there were several camellias growing, but they were fairly small.
But the intrigue of "having a nice flower in the cold weather" cast its spell, and now his property is home to about 1,500 camellias - 1,200 in the ground, 300 or so of various sizes growing in pots.
"It never really occurred to us to grow camellias. But this area seems to provide the perfect conditions for them," he said.
It's turned out to be a good year for camellias, Ellis noted, despite the inauspicious year. It was hot and dry this summer. And then it was hot and dry this fall.
Either scenario can spell doom for flower buds - which actually start developing in the summer - and both back to back are particularly evil.
But a cool fall with some rain came to save the day, so - barring a freeze this past week - there will be blooms aplenty at the Oaks Mall Sears Court. Ellis said the quality will be good, even if quanitity is not spectacular.
Entries are still being accepted this morning from 8 to 11, after which show judges will proclaim their ratings. The displays will be open for public viewing from 1 to 9 today, and noon to 6 Sunday.
Potted camellia shrubs will be for sale, and Camellia Society members will be on hand to dispense advice and plant disease remedies.
While the Gainesville show is expected to be a very good one, Ellis said he knows of six other shows in the Southeast that have been smaller this fall. The number of entries in Georgia, South Carolina, Pensacola and Jacksonville shows fell below normal.
However, some of these growers get another chance: while exhibitors usually show up from within an hour's drive of Gainesville, he expects some to come from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, each bringing up to 80 cut blooms with them.
"A lot of them come for the competition, but mostly, they come for the camaraderie," he said.
Cutting camellias early for a show is routine; they can last for almost two weeks if kept in the right preservative, he said. In fact, on Christmas Day, he cut a "once-a-year bloom, one that would win any category" of 'Frank Houser' variegated, a popular and sought-after semi-double reticulata that features red petals broadly streaked with white.
He wasn't sure if it would still be show-worthy this weekend, but he was checking it each morning, just in case.
He's been encouraging other growers - novice and experienced - to show. One class, the Novice, is for growers who have never won an award.
Another, the Intermediate, will be offered on a trial basis. It's for growers who have not won an award for two years "and have dropped out, thinking they can't compete with the 'big boys.' We want them back and showing," Ellis said.
There are several classes in the show, including those grown in a greenhouse, treated blooms, different sizes, groupings of three, etc.
To enter a bloom, novices should bring them to the Mall between 8 and 11 today. The bloom should have no more than two leaves, a stem no longer than two inches, and it should be properly identified.
Experts at the entry table will help identify unlabeled plants.
If you are a northerner yearning for spring color, you can have tulips and daffodils. You just have to prepare the bulbs to fool them into thinking they've been in the cold, dark ground for two months.
Some area plant stores are selling these hardy bulbs, and most say they have been pre-chilled. Of course, now they've been sitting in the warm sun for a couple of weeks, so the internal timing might be off.
Hardy bulbs need about two months at 40 degrees (the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator would work) before being planted outdoors. Chill them in a brown paper bag filled with vermiculite.
But there are other pitfalls: if there is ripening fruit in the same refrigerator - anything from apples and avocados to nectarines and sapotas - the ethylene gas given off by them will cause the flower bud inside the bulb to abort. If you have a spare refrigerator, use that one. Or don't put ripening produce in the refrigerator in the first place.
Better yet, plant bulbs more suited to this area: narcissus (sometimes called small-cupped daffodils), ranunculus, anemones. They will survive our hot-cold-hot temperature swings. Narcissus will naturalize in North Central Florida.
Hardy bulbs - tulips, crocuses, hyacinths - that have been prechilled for two months can be planted. Those that don't need chilling are narcissus (sometimes called small-cupped daffodils), ranunculus, anemones.
Prune grapes, pecans, peaches, nectarines and peaches. Protect citrus from freezes by wrapping the trunks of young trees and covering them with frost cloth.
Keep harvesting cole crops, carrots and other hardy vegetables. Some leafy greens - lettuce, spinach - can be planted through spring. Later this month, buy seed potatoes.
If you need to rearrange your landscape - moving dormant trees and shrubs to different locations because of size constraints or other factors - this is the time to do it.
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