HALL: Every woman should have Frank Houser in her bed

Laura Hall
Regular Frank Houser, 6 inches across, petals upwards of 3 inches.

That’s in her flower bed of course — this is a garden article for goodness sakes. Camellia blossoms are now showing an unbelievable array of remarkable forms and there are not many I find as big, brazen and beautiful as Frank Houser.

You can find Frank either as a solid rosy red or, if you are lucky, a variegated one with blossoms filled with indefinite patches of white and red. The blooms look like big, fluffy, raspberry jam floating through a mound of whipped cream.

Frank Houser, Camellia reticulata , is a red to rose pink, very large, semi-double flower that sometimes appears in peony form. This large reticulata proves to be the undisputed champion when it comes to winning shows and is a profuse winter to spring bloomer for us here in Destin. For me, the most beautiful of all is the Frank Houser variegated which was introduced in 1989. At that time the variegation causing virus was introduced into the regular Frank Houser. The popularity of this variegated version has even exceeded that of the regular Frank Houser.  

For those of us who live in the South, we have long been familiar with these beautiful shrubs that continue to delight us, not only year after year but generation after generation. Most of the camellias in my garden are sheltered from the hot Destin sun. I plant them under moderately tall palms or hardwoods when possible. These give the camellias sun dappled light, which they love, and keep the strong winds at bay. 

Some species are more tolerant of the sun than others. I always marvel at the huge camellias in some of the older gardens that thrive even in the full blazing sun. Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile is a perfect example of this. I suspect the canopies of these old camellias are large enough to offer some shade and coolness to the roots.

When introducing new camellias to your landscape, here are a few words of caution. Camellias must have acidic, well-drained soil and above all, the trunk base must be above the soil line. Plant too deep and you are flirting with disappointment. They enjoy lots of organic matter and I always mulch the root area to keep it as cool as possible.

Another joy of the garden this time of year is the old fashioned Paper-White Narcissus daffodil. They are so fragrant, a vase of them in the house will send you reeling with an overwhelming sweet perfume that puts gardenias to shame. Every one of the original bulbs in my yard came from my mother’s garden in South Alabama. 

I fondly remember hundreds of them springing up under the high oaks in our front yard at least 60 years ago.  Unbelievable but true, these are the same bulbs from a childhood long ago that continue to thrive, bloom and put off more bulbs. These late winter and spring-flowering plants are perennial and increase from year to year. They laugh at the cold as most are hardy to -30 and for some strange reason the rodents don’t give them the time of day. 

As they multiply every year more friends and neighbors are persuaded to take the ever increasing bulbs from my garden that I have named for my mother. I am delighted to pass them on and if you take them, the names goes with them, Viola Narcissus Eleganta.

Laura Hall is a freelance reporter and longtime Destin resident.  She explores area gardens and plants with her cavalier spaniel Annie.  If you have an interesting topic, contact Laura at