Camellias brighten winter at the Natchez City Cemetery

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The spectacular color of camellias puts life into a winter day, nowhere more clearly than at the Natchez City Cemetery.

Known for its ornate iron fences and handsome statuary, the historic cemetery also has a reputation for its old plants, especially the roses and camellias.

Camellias have a long history in the western world, but not as long as in their native China.

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In his book “Southern Gardens, Southern Gardening,” William Lanier Hunt says Chinese gardens featured the flowering shrubs many centuries before they were discovered and brought to Europe.

“Camellias were cultivated and adored by the Chinese as far back as the ninth century,” Hunt says.

“Along with the tree peony, the chrysanthemum, the lotus and the plum blossom, they are represented on porcelain, on scrolls and panels, and in the paintings of many centuries.”

The first camellia reached English shores in 1820, when Richard Rawes, captain of an East India Company ship, brought one to a friend.

“The flowers created a real sensation among English flower lovers,” Hunt says. “They began to grow them in their greenhouses and to cherish the plants and to study them.”

The camellia took hold of American gardeners’ imaginations in the 1920s. Interesting to note, Hunt says, is that “camellia fever spread very fast, mainly because American men took the camellia as one of their favorite flowers.”

Susan McKinley, incoming president of the Adams County Master Gardeners, enjoys the role camellias play in the winter months.

“The neat thing about camellias is that practically nothing else is blooming when they do,” she said. “And they are evergreen, and they look great.”