Thursday, January 31, 2013

Camellias in Bloom

My late grandmother Chessie Pearce's camellia
Camden County, North Carolina
Photographed by Edward L. Pearce

This past Saturday the Coastal Carolina Camellia Society held its annual camellia show. According to the Society's FaceBook page, more than 1,000 blooms were entered. I intended to go across town to view the entries, but got busy and forgot until too late. What a great opportunity it would have been to learn more about camellias.

My grandmother, Chessie Pearce, grew a camellia tree in her garden. The tree is at least sixty-five years old but possibly much older. My brother Edward remembers our grandmother saying camellias should be planted on the north side of a pine and also remembers her calling her tree a japonica. Sometime during the 1970s temperatures dropped below zero and the freeze damaged Grandmama's tree. After Edward cut it back to about five feet, it revived. Now, forty-five years after our grandmother's death, the tree is approximately eighteen feet tall and blooms prolifically. 

Camellia tree
Chessie Pearce's camellia tree is more than 65 years old
Photographed by Edward L. Pearce

My knowledge of camellias is not extensive. I'm familiar with japonicas and sasanquas, and with camellia sinensis, the tea plant. These are not, however, the only species of camellias and after doing a bit of reading, I realize it's quite possible that some of the camellias I believed to be japonicas are not.

Here's the local conventional wisdom: Japonica blossoms make beautiful cut flowers, perfect for floating in a glass bowl indoors or in a birdbath outdoors. Sasanqua blossoms don't last when cut. 

Where I live, the sasanquas usually bloom from September to November and japonicas bloom in the winter. 

Variegated camellia japonica
This red and white variegated variety 
grows in my front yard

Camellia japonica
This cream colored camellia sporting 
a wealth of stamens grows near my front door
Variegated camellias
A pink and white variegated variety
 growing in my front yard

My one-third acre lot contains a number of camellias. Some, or all, of the seven that came with the house, when I bought it, had been transplanted here from Summerville when the prior homeowner moved his parents into assisted living. One of the seven budded yearly, but never bloomed, and succumbed during a cold winter several years ago. A single one of the remaining six is a sasanqua, which I've had cut back, but has resumed growth. I always assumed the other five were  of the japonica species, but after perusing the American Camellia Society's website this afternoon, I'm not so certain.

White camellia japonica
This white camellia japonica is one I bought, from a plant nursery or garden center, and planted perhaps as much as ten or twelve years ago. It's at the back of the lot and gets little sunlight. Perhaps that's why it's stingy with its gorgeous blossoms. 

My older japonicas produce seeds. In the last three years volunteers have sprouted under an old pink-blossomed tree. With varying success, I've transplanted seedlings to other spots in my yard. I've also given a few away.

When I intentionally planted camellia seeds in the past, either they didn't grow, or I forgot where I planted them and accidentally mowed them down. The seedlings are similar in appearance to those of the homely wild cherry trees that, due to bird droppings, each year produce hundreds of seedlings under my huge live oak and a variety of other shrubs and trees. 

My sister Martha Ann in northeastern North Carolina had success growing a camellia from a seed I gave her years ago. One of her animals, a goat, attempted to eat the small shrub, but now it's growing back.

Camellia seeds and seedpods
This past August I harvested seeds from the five older japonicas
I have not yet taken on the task of identifying the varieties of my camellias. Nor have I been a particularly good steward of them in the past. I hope to remedy that.

Formal double camellia in South Carolina
On the grounds of the Berkeley County
Library, Daniel Island, SC
Formal double camellia growing in Japan
On the Rokko Island greenway, Kobe, Japan

As a result of having family members living in Japan, I have been able to view camellias in bloom at Tenryū-ji and other gardens in Kyoto, as well as, in and around Kobe. 

Camellia tree Kobe, Japan
One of a group of camellia trees growing out of rock
 on a hillside above Kobe, Japan in late November

There are plenty of opportunities to see camellias blooming in the American South. At this time of year a stroll through older neighborhoods, such as the one where I live, is a treat for a camellia lover. 

Two weeks from today, Middleton Place begins its annual guided Camellia Walks. Botanist Andre Michaux is said to have introduced the camellia japonica there around 1785. 

Camellia tree
This japonica by my laundry room thrives on afternoon sunlight but needs some TLC

Camellia seed pods and pear in situ
Seed pods in situ
Transplanted camellia seedling
A volunteer that I transplanted

Camellia tree at Tenryu-ji in Kyoto, Japan
April at Tenryū-ji temple gardens in Kyoto, Japan
Camellia blossom in Kyoto, Japan
A leaf wants to hide this pretty pink blossom at Tenryū-ji

Variegated camellia at Tenryu-ji in Kyoto, Japan
A variegated blossom at Tenryū-ji 

Camellia blossom

This one grows by my laundry room

Thank you for visiting The Traveling Gardener. 
Your comments are welcome.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Two Days in Brookgreen

Nandina at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina
"Neptune" sculpted by Wheeler Williams
Nandina, also known as heavenly bamboo, thrives between sculpture and brick wall

Brookgreen Gardens, located in Murrell's Inlet in Georgetown County, South Carolina, is a treasure I'd driven past many times over the years while traveling up and down US Highway 17. Family and friends had told me I would find it enchanting and that it was the sort of place well suited for a day trip out of Charleston. Yet I never seemed to fit a visit into my schedule.

When I finally did visit Brookgreen, it was on the spur of the moment near the end of a calendar year. One of the characters in my novel-in-progress owned a Scottish deerhound and, in order to attempt an accurate portrayal of the dog's behavior, I was searching for information about the breed. While reading from Arthur S. Beaman's Lure Coursing, I learned that the author had purchased a deerhound from the kennel owned by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. I remembered that she, along with her husband Archer Huntington, had created Brookgreen Gardens, and I decided it was time for a day trip.

Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington with one of her beloved Scottish deerhounds
"The Visionaries" by Anna Hyatt Huntington
Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington and one of Anna's beloved Scottish deerhounds

I went alone that first time and wandered through various garden rooms, soaking in the landscape and sculptures. Winter in the Lowcountry of South Carolina emits a stark beauty, but a beauty nonetheless. Sculptures of Diana, bright red berries, and beards of Spanish moss drew my attention, as did Anna Hyatt Huntington’s large sculpture “The Visionaries,” a portrayal of Archer and Anna planning the gardens accompanied by a Scottish deerhound. The back of the sculpture included an inscription of “The Silver Gardens,” a poem written by Archer.

On very cold days, like that one, I'm not prone to linger. And on that day I did not. Other than stopping in the restaurant for a late lunch, I kept moving, pausing only to take photographs and to read plaques that provided information about the works of art and their creators.

Sculpture: Fawn    Sculptor: Albert Stewart
"Fawn" by sculptor Albert Stewart is located in the children's garden
with Oregon grape (mahonia aquifolium) and azaleas in the background
Three and a half months later, in April, I returned to Brookgreen Gardens with my daughter and her three young sons in tow. Azaleas and a multitude of other plants were in bloom. We used the map this time and visited garden rooms I'd miss during my earlier visit. One of those was the Peace Garden Room for Children - a big hit with my grandsons. The children's garden included sculptures of a big bear and a little bear sitting back to back, a girl with flute sitting atop a sunflower, a curled up fawn, and a caterpillar that delighted my youngest grandson, a toddler at the time of our visit.

Azalea blossoms
"Pledge of Allegiance" by Glenna Goodacre
Part of "Pledge of Allegiance" by sculptor Glenna Goodacre

Archer Huntington, heir to fortune, and Anna Hyatt, a successful sculptor, married on March 10, 1923, his fifty-third birthday and her forty-seventh. Brookgreen Gardens and Huntington Beach State Park host a 3-in-1 Day to celebrate.

Archer Huntington, known for his philanthropy, founded The Hispanic Society of America in New York and the Mariner’s Museum in Virginia, and with his wife Anna Hyatt Huntington co-founded Brookgreen Gardens. The Huntington Sculpture Garden, the first public sculpture garden in America, is a component of Brookgreen Gardens. It opened in 1932.


Brookgreen Gardens, as a whole consists of more than nine thousand acres. The Huntington Sculpture Garden consists of more than thirty-five acres. Other components of Brookgreen Gardens are the Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve and the Center for American Sculpture.

Sculpture: Griffin  Sculptor: Paul Howard Manship
"Griffin" sculpted by Paul Howard Manship

Native azalea
Native Azalea
Subsequent to my two visits, a seasonal exhibit, a butterfly garden and house has opened at Brookgreen’s Lowcountry Zoo. My own favorite Lowcountry Zoo experiences, aside from witnessing my grandsons’ enjoyment, were seeing a fox asleep on a tree branch, watching river otters swim, and seeing fox squirrels leaping nearby.
Sunflowers by Charles Parks at Brookgreen Gardens
The top portion of "Sunflowers" by Charles Parks 

Currently Brookgreen Gardens charges $14 for adult admission  (ages nineteen to sixty-four), $12 for those sixty-five or older and for young adults, $7 for children ages four to twelve. Younger children are admitted free. Tickets are valid for seven days, which is brilliant since there is so much to see and do at Brookgreen.

Fountain of the Muses by Carl Milles at Brookgreen Gardens
Foreground: Foxgloves
Background: "Fountain of the Muses" by sculptor Carl Milles

For more information about Brookgreen Gardens visit their website:

Diana of the Chase by Anna Hyatt Huntington
"Diana of the Chase" by Anna Hyatt Huntington
"Griffin" by Paul Howard Manship, right background