Enchanting camellias

Several camellias currently bloom in the gardens of Gainesville's Thomas Center. The Gainesville Camellia Society's annual show will be at the Oaks Mall Jan. 8-9, and more than 1,200 individual blooms are expected to be judged and on display.

DAVID MASSEY/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 31, 2004 at 11:32 p.m.
To camellia enthusiasts, Gainesville is the epicenter of their enchant- ment.
According to the Gainesville Camellia Society records, the first headquarters of the American Camellia Society was in Gainesville. The ACS was organized in a Macon, Ga., hotel on Sept. 29, 1945, and incorporated on Oct. 24, 1945. The first president was H. Harold Hume for whom Hume Hall at the University of Florida was named. The first ACS Yearbook Editor was R. J. Wilmot for whom the Wilmot gardens on the UF campus is named.
The original Gainesville Camellia Society was the Gainesville Men's Garden Club. Wilmot's death in 1950 inspired the club to design and plant the Wilmot Memorial Gardens on the campus in memory of their friend. The club thrived until the 1960s, but for some reason, ceased to be active. At that time, the ACS headquarters moved to Fort Valley, Ga.
After a dormant period, the current Gainesville Camellia Society was formed in the early 1970s. Ivan Mitchell was instrumental in the resurgence of the local society. A list of past presidents - some deceased - includes Jim Gahan, Jerry Hogsette, Henry Lunsford, Mary Sarver, Wilbur Harlin, Chuck Carlson, Merle Battiste, Arnold Matthews, Howard Smith, Jim Milan, Cecil Simmons, Howell Janes, John Hintermister, Franklin White, Lionel Worthy, Sandra Williams, John E. Thrasher III and David Mikolaitis.
The Gainesville Camellia Society meets the third Sunday of the month from September-November at Summer House, at the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. Every meeting features a speaker on some facet of caring for camellias.
Annual show next weekend The society's annual camellia show is next weekend, Jan. 8 and 9, at the Oaks Mall in Gainesville. Flowers will be judged Saturday morning and then remain on exhibit during mall hours. There will be plenty of plants for sale and information on how to grow them. They are not difficult, but respond to care.
Tim Crawford, chairman of this year's show, says it should be a good turnout, despite the fact it's the same weekend of shows in Tampa, Tallahassee and New Orleans. Camellia growers routinely travel the Southeast to enter shows, and so many others on the same weekend may result in 500-600 fewer blooms than the normal 1,700 total shown.
But what . . . 1,200 beautiful blossoms isn't enough?
Crawford says it's been a good season for camellia blossoms. Some growers have "gibbed" their flowers, which means they have applied a drop of gibberellic acid to the growth bud next to the flower buds several weeks ago, creating larger and earlier blooms. This, of course, reduces the amount of new growth the following year, so they only do select branches.
Recent frosts and freezes have probably not affected flowers adversely. Often cold will create browned edges on opening flowers. Crawford mentioned that several growers will bring flowers created from shrubs grown in greenhouses farther north, even to North Carolina, which are exhibited and judged in different categories. Most flowers are in the "unprotected" category.
Camellias are beautiful flowers in all shades of white through burgundy, with many variations and forms. Breeders, not being content with what they already have, are actively trying to introduce new colors (yellow, particularly) and fragrance (there are some with light fragrance).
Crawford grows about 70 camellias on Lochloosa Lake, where temperatures did not get as cold as other remote areas. He first started growing them abut 10 years ago when he was a household pesticide applicator for Brooker Pest Control, and serviced the home of the late Howard Smith, known for decades for his prolific prowess in camellia culture.
Crawford has no favorite, but he does particularly enjoy the Christeline, a light blush pink almost formal double developed by Lionel Worthy of Gainesville, in honor of his late wife.
Crawford says he wished more people would use camellias, which have glossy dark green foliage all year long. But when they bloom in the late fall (the sansanquas) and the winter (the japonicas) they take center stage.
"It's not a mainstream plant," Crawford says. "People tend to concentrate on the overall landscape appeal rather than having showblooms. It's awesome when you see some of them, and they grow into trees. Sasanquas can even take some shearing into hedges.
"Not a lot of landscape planners know where to place camellias. They really can do well in full sun."
Marina Blomberg can be reached at 352-332-0080 or neophyte@bellsouth.net.

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