Lady Laura softly murmurs, “It should be me.” “Oh no you don’t. I think I am lovelier, just look at these gorgeous petals,” laments Tiffany. “Hey wait a minute, I am the White Empress and I should be crowned the fairest.”  Down the hall, Pope John XXIII gives a sign of the cross and declares them all the most beautiful camellias he has ever seen.

The subject of camellias, and their regal names, overwhelmed me so much I hardly knew where to begin.

Therefore, I made a quick trip over to FWB to visit with Joe Jenus, who has been raising camellias for 22 years and has served four terms as President of the American Camellia Society. Joe informs me that “Camellias come in all sizes and shapes, some short while others may grow to 14 feet or more.  There are several thousand registered unique camellias. Due to their popularity, the camellia has been designated the state flower of Alabama.  Fort Walton Beach is called “The Camellia City” because of the many varieties found here.”

The sasanqua camellia blooms in the early fall and has smaller leaves and blossoms than the Camellia japonica.  The japonicas bloom later, even into the early spring.  The Camellia reticulate produces the biggest and most spectacular flowers. Joe says, “These blooms can get really huge.” Camellias bloom fall, winter and early spring when the plant is, strangely enough, dormant.

I asked Joe to give some helpful hints on planting.  He kindly obliged: “Don’t plant too close to the house because the camellia bushes can get big. I would have at least six to eight feet from the center of the plant to your house.  All day sun is going to yellow the leaves so give it a bit of shade.”

I have many camellias in my yard and I must confess that my biggest problem has been an infestation of white scale that has driven me batty over the years. I have tried the oil sprays for years with little success because I don’t spray regularly enough. Bad me, busy me.  I was spraying my Lady Laura last week, she is about six feet tall, and just for the fun of it, I counted the sprays that were necessary to cover all the infected leaves.  Would you believe I sprayed 274 leaves, underneath, and sometimes each leaf took four to five sprays to saturate?  That comes to 1,233 pumps! You gotta love a plant to do that.

Ah ha! Joe has come to save the day! He recommends a spray called Pyola (can order from Gardens Alive), which he explains gets not only the spider mites but also the white scale AND their eggs.  I immediately ordered this product. Oh, how I hope my prayers have been answered.

If you want to know more about the wonderful world of camellias there is going to be a workshop on Saturday, Feb. 16 from 9-12 noon at the Extension Annex, 127 NW Hollywood Blvd in Fort Walton Beach.

After leaving Fort Walton I stopped by the Destin Library to see their camellia collection and meet with Susan and Ken Vanderzeyde. Back several years ago, the Destin Garden Club wanted to add camellias to their ever-expanding garden. Today the library has 13 beautiful varieties established, blooming, and thriving in the Horne Memorial Garden.

All these camellia plants were donated as small, propagated plants from the Fort Walton Beach Camellia Society. Every one was planted with the loving and hopeful hands of Susan and Ken. As the plants have matured, name plaques have been placed in front of each one, so they are easy for the visitor to identify.  I hope you will take time to visit this lovely and tranquil oasis the next time you visit the library.

The Destin Garden Club has spent untold hours maintaining the gardens.  An article about these gardens is coming to you soon.

My Camellia beauty pageant is still taking applications. Anyone who thinks they might have a winner, send us a picture.

Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens with her cavalier spaniel Annie. If you would like to show off your garden, contact Laura at 837-8720.