THE BIRTH OF A CAMELLIA GARDEN

By: Sam M. Wellborn




In late 2018, Bruce Jones, my son in law and very talented real estate developer, invited me to create a new camellia garden at OLD TOWN, a fabulous real estate development in north Columbus. Bruce felt that a camellia garden would be an attractive addition to the many amenities at OLD TOWN for the several hundred residents to enjoy. I jumped at the opportunity because camellias are one of my biggest passions in my life. I was very grateful for the invitation and accepted the challenge with great enthusiasm.


One of the reasons I was so excited about this is the spot Bruce wanted to build the garden. This area of OLD TOWN is an incredibly large and beautiful hillside with great filtered light provided by huge trees, especially several species of oak as well as a few pine trees, among other trees. Camellias prosper best under filtered light as opposed to full sun, so the setting for the garden was spectacular.


With this great setting to work with, which includes waterfalls, fast moving streams, incredible rock work, and several attractive ponds, I set out to find our first camellias to use in the first phase of planting. Being a camellia ‘nut’, I am familiar with a couple of great sources for camellias in Georgia, like County Line Nursery in Byron and Loch Laurel Nursery in Valdosta. Both of these nurseries have excellent choices of the best camellias available in our state. I shopped these places, and a few more, and came up with about 200 cultivars which would constitute our first phase of planting.


As time went by, I began thinking about the Phase 2 installation. During 2019, I branched further away from Georgia for sources and found many new varieties in such places as Tallahassee, Baton Rouge and a nursery in California. Before I knew it, I had accumulated another 250 varieties. These were planted in late 2019 and constituted the Phase 2 installation which reached further down the hillside. The total plants now was about 450 camellias.


Throughout 2020, the accumulation process became sort of a treasure hunt for me because, even though I was still shopping at County Line and Loch Laurel. I had already found the most common varieties…now I had to really work to find varieties not easily obtainable. One way I did this was to employ perhaps the most successful camellia grafter, Randolph Maphis, from Tallahassee, FL. I had purchased from Randolph before and already knew that he produced camellias, through his grafting methods, that no one else had. With Randolph’s help, and the help of Tommy Alden and Mark Crawford, we have assembled an extraordinary collection of camellias in three short years.


Since our garden by now was becoming well known, several people have donated plants to us. Such was the case of a camellia expert from Atlanta, Jim Pruckler. Jim gave us more than 100 of his plants for our garden. These 100, plus about 200 more that I had accumulated throughout 2020 constituted the Phase 3 installation which was completed in February, 2021. Our total camellias is now more than 700! The collection for the Phase 4 planting already exceeds 150 and the number is climbing. My goal is to reach 1,000 varieties by this time next year and I see no reason why we can’t take that number much higher in the years to come.


I wanted to mention that most great camellia gardens contain great ‘companion’ plants. In addition to the already existing native trees, we have been diligent in adding such plants as red buds, white dogwoods, pink dogwoods, native azaleas, regular azaleas and maples. Hundreds of daffodils have been planted and they have been beautiful this Spring. Mulched trails throughout the garden along with several benches make for a leisurely stroll, from top to bottom.


The camellia garden at OLD TOWN is but three years old. Many of our plants are small, but in just a few short years they will grow into an incredible spectacle for all to see and enjoy. It is already beautiful. We have been added to the American Camellia Society’s National Camellia Trail as well as the Georgia Camellia Trail. This garden adds greatly to the quality of life for OLD TOWN residents, the citizens of Columbus and anyone who sees it. It has been a wonderful joy for me to create this garden and I will be forever grateful to Bruce for asking me to do it.

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