Southern Agenda

Camellia Capers

Like memories, plants can be lost to time. “If they’re not cared for, they can disappear,” says F. Wayne Stromeyer, who along with his colleague Trenton L. James wrote the new book Early Camellias in Louisiana to document exciting rediscoveries of the South’s favorite winter flowers. “Often, no one’s keeping up with their names. Some camellias have been sitting here for two centuries, but no one knew what they were.” Traveling to historic sites throughout the state and conferring with garden experts, Stromeyer and James tracked down such elusive varieties as the bright crimson Chandleri at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Laurel Hill and the strikingly rosy Landrethii at the 1790s estate Butler Greenwood outside St. Francisville. “They were going around like detectives looking for flowers and forgotten gardens,” says Cybèle Gontar, an art historian who edited and published the book. The last of the season’s blooms can be spotted through March, and early spring is also the best time to plant camellias: Louisianans can find Lady Hume’s Blush, Professor Charles Sargent, and other old and rare varieties at nurseries such as Larry Bates Nursery in Forest Hill and Mizell’s Camellia Hill Nursery in Folsom. “There is a place for historic camellias in any garden,” Stromeyer says, “for those who are looking.”