It’s #039;The Year of the Camellia#039;

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2005

Did you know 2005 has been officially designated in Alabama as &uot;The Year of the Camellia&uot;?

On Friday, Jan. 7, Governor Bob Riley issued a proclamation honoring the beautiful bloom that has graced the yards of southern homes for over 200 years.

Riley’s proclamation calls the camellia, the Alabama State Flower since 1959, a &uot;historically treasured plant that lives for over 1,000 years…a unique attraction…a magnificent flower&uot;.

At the Alabama State Capitol, First Lady Patsy Riley planted additional camellias in honor of the Governor’s announcement. These camellias are the offspring of the original camellias planted by then-Governor John Patterson in 1959 at the Governor’s Mansion.

Actually, it was a contingent of local citizens, including Shirley Roberson (a noted camellia artist these days) who helped plant those lovely camellias in Montgomery some 40-plus years ago.

These local gentlemen were a perfect choice – after all, it was Greenvillians who first had the idea of promoting this lovely plant, long before it was made the official state flower.

`A city crazy for camellias

Camellias were already popular and well-established flower in Greenville by the early 1900s, and were often featured in the local garden club’s annual flower show.

It was the Greenville Garden Club that selected the camellia japonica as the city flower in 1938. That same year, the late J. Glenn Stanley, a camellia-grower himself, adopted the slogan for &uot;The Greenville Advocate&uot; and the city adopted it as well. In a town where folks already loved the flowering shrub, everyone, it seemed, was going crazy over camellias.

In 1939, the Greenville Garden Club held its very first official camellia show. That same year, an audience of over 1500 was treated to an elaborate pageant, &uot;The Story of the Camellia,&uot; at W.O. Parmer Elementary during the school’s annual May Day Festival.

In the years that followed the adoption of &uot;The Camellia City&uot; slogan, the many camellia shrubs already found in the city and county were joined by additional camellias planted by civic organizations, garden clubs, Scout troops, churches and school children. Science classes learned how to graft and propagate the shrubs.

Camellia enthusiast and former &uot;Advocate&uot; publisher Gene Hardin recalls taking camellia plants from the old nursery on Highway 10 East and planting them in the Beeland Park area.

Homes, churches, parks, cemeteries, civic buildings, hospitals – they were all soon graced with the glossy green leaves and beautiful blooms of the camellia.

Even businesses adopted the name and image of the camellia as their own. One local dairyman featured pictures of the Alba Plena, Pride of Greenville and Beauty of Greenville varieties on his milk cartons.

During the war years, Home Demonstration Clubs began a project to plant camellias in honor and memory of loved ones serving in the military.

In 1959, Butler County native, legislator Lamont Glass had the camellia designated Alabama’s State Flower.

Nonnie Stanley Hardin, whose father and uncle were instrumental in making Greenville’s camellias famous, recalls the years when Greenville floats, covered with local camellias, brightened the Governor’s inaugural parades in Montgomery.

&uot;We were absolutely elated when we heard the news the camellia had been named our state flower. Camellias were something I simply grew up with. We wore them in our hair or pinned to our coats to wear to school and church – Daddy thought they were a necessity. And they are certainly a beautiful flower,&uot; &uot;Miss&uot; Nonnie says.

The camellia shall rise again

While the number and frequency of local camellia shows has dwindled over the past two decades, the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society (BCHGS) mounted a large-scale show in early 2002 which rekindled interest in Greenville’s favorite bloom.

Last year, Barbara Middleton, BCHGS president and ardent camellia grower, revamped her detailed Camellia Trail Driving Tour in time for the Alabama Historical Association’s Fall Pilgrimage in Greenville.

Local gardeners and historians have hopes the camellia will once more come into the spotlight during this, &uot;The Year of the Camellia&uot;.

&uot;I really think we need to take advantage of, and play up, the fact we are &uot;The Camellia City&uot; during this entire year. We certainly will plan to take a camellia plant to the First Lady a little later this year,&uot; comments Gene Hardin.

There are still plenty of ardent camellia lovers out there.

&uot;What more beautiful flowering evergreen shrub could you want?&uot; says Annie Crenshaw, artist, historian and proud Butler County native.

Gene Hardin agrees. &uot;These are beautiful plants for year-round display. They make great back planting at homes – and we’d love to see more of them being incorporated into landscaping for new homes being built. It’s a beautiful plant and with proper basic care, it yields beautiful results.&uot;