Friday, February 07, 2014

Friday Favorites: Charleston & Camellias

The post below is from my Adventures In Gardening column archives and originally appeared elsewhere on January 19, 2013. While it has a gardening theme, it is also about falling in love for the first time, although in a perhaps unconventional sense, and it seems fitting to revisit it with Valentines Day arriving a week from today. It is also one of my favorite posts that I have ever written! I've had a follow-up of sorts in the works, which covers my first brief visit to Charleston in 2012 overall. My longing to return to Charleston arrives every February and March now. One day I will get there. Until then I have my memories and my Camellias.

Adventures In Gardening: Love Struck!

As gardeners, we fall in love over and over again.  Every time we flip through a catalog, make a trip to the nursery, or take a walk in a new garden.  Often, many of these new loves get pushed out of our minds and onto the “maybe one day’ list, but, there are those that get a hold of our hearts and refuse to let go.
My passionate love affair and fascination with Camellias began just a year ago this month, at the end of February, in Charleston, South Carolina.
We arrived in Charleston after a somewhat horrendous fifteen hour drive late Sunday afternoon the 26th and unfortunately had to leave the following day.  Because my mother had a stroke the week before, we didn’t have the three days we originally planned. We needed to continue heading south to FL on Monday to visit with my father-in-law for what would be the last time as he was diagnosed with in-operable heart failure that January (and cancer just after we arrived back home from this trip).  It was an awful time for the Hubbs and I!
He didn’t want to rush us through what little time we had in SC, but it was definitely a case of “Take your time, but hurry up!” that Monday.  But, Hubbs knew though how excited I was to be in Charleston, how stressed and upset I had been since my mother’s stroke (on top of being devastated over his father) so he told me to figure out a place we could visit before getting back on the road that afternoon.  I immediately went through the dozen postcards I bought in the hotel lobby that morning before breakfast and found the one with “54 Meeting Street” printed on the front.
From the photo of that postcard here, I’m sure you can see why I picked this place!
Little did I know, it is a private residence and garden, one that you can only catch glimpses of from the sidewalk through a black iron fence.  I was so disappointed, I about burst into tears right in the middle of the sidewalk!
The morning was dark and thick with humidity and quiet.  We crossed back over to our SUV, which was parked near the start of a long brick wall with a black iron fence running along the top of it that went well above our heads.
Hubbs called to me from inside the main gate and I followed enough to see a sign that read, “Nathaniel Russell House & Museum.”  In front of me was a stunning antebellum home!  My spirits lifted when I saw that it was open for tours. We followed a path to our left, leading away from the house and into a magnificent, expansive garden, the likes of which I could never have begun to imagine was behind that towering wall of brick and iron out front!
I was floored.
I was love struck!
This was a world unlike anything I had been in before.
Cupid’s arrow landed squarely in my heart.
So much in bloom! And In February! My Northern self could not get over it.  Delicate shades of pink and green in the trees and bushes.  Pops of white too.
Tall, wide bushes of red and pink flowers, much like roses, with mustard yellow centers, grew along a brick wall, and in the corner, clusters of smaller bushes nearly covered the ground, their blooms, heavy with moisture, bowing to the soil.  What were they?  I had to find out!  I just had to!
But, first we toured the inside of Nathaniel Russell House.
Afterwards, I headed back out into the garden and the sweet, humid air, forgetting the umbrella I had purchased in the gift shop earlier.  I rounded a path…
And discovered this with a gasp:
Cupid got me with another arrow to the heart. And I fell hopelessly in love!
What are…? This one has a name!
These beautiful, rose-like creatures were all Camellias!
Did I know about Camellias? How did I not know about Camellias? Of course, I immediately wanted one for my own garden here at home, but I (incorrectly) assumed they weren’t something I could grow here in the North.
When we arrived at my beloved father-in-law’s home the next day, we were greeted by the large Camellia bush with more red flowers on it than anything I had ever seen or had seen on it in the past. (Sadly, I cannot locate the photo I took of it).  Later, he asked me if I knew what it was and told me that my mother-in-law had planted it years ago, but he couldn’t remember if he ever knew what it was called. I told him it was a Camellia bush (not adding that I had just found out the morning before) and he turned to Hubbs and said, “I knew she’d know!” and I smiled.
I’ve since learned that you can grow them here in NJ, they’re not fond of windy locations, they are fond of rich, well drained acid soil, the correct pronunciation isn’t a long ‘e’ like in “feel” but like in “fell” (Camellia vs Cameellia) and that there is even an American Camellia Society.
I bought a Camellia for my own garden last Spring, Camellia japonica ‘April Blush,’ and I’m anxiously awaiting more blooms this year!  (If I can keep the squirrels from eating all of the buds that is.  So far, Old Bay seasoning is the only thing that keeps the destructive little critters away).
I have much more to learn about Camellias and I do believe this has been the beginning of a long time, beautiful relationship!
What have you been ‘love struck’ by and had to have for your own garden?
Happy Valentines to one and all!
Until next time,
aka @BloominChick
PS: To read about the promise I made regarding honoring my father-in-law’s memory in my garden, click here to read a previous edition of Adventures In Gardening entitled, “Honoring Loved Ones In The Garden.”
posted on JANUARY 19, 2013 by