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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens was ablaze with flowers in every shade of red, white and pink over the weekend as the Gainesville Camellia Society held its 44th annual two-day sale and show.

Nearly 1,500 camellias were submitted for the panel’s consideration. Judged against the book of nomenclature for camellias as determined by the American Camellia Society, everything from the flowers’ color, size and shape were carefully scrutinized.

Winners were divided along categories based on the type and size as well as details such as whether they were grown indoors or outdoors and if gibberellic acid was used to aid the growing process.

According to 77-year-old Gainesville native and society member John Swanson, North Central Florida’s hospitable climate makes cultivating camellias fairly simple.

“They're pretty easy to care for — one or two years in the ground with a little supplemental irrigation,” Swanson said. “But after that, they'll tolerate normal weather conditions here.”

Once established, camellias can flourish for years with little maintenance. The flower’s resilience and tendency to bloom in the winter has earned it the title “Queen of the Winter Garden.”

“There’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Swanson said. “For growing camellias, fall and winter are the best times for planting.”

Show Chairman Jerry Hogsette said many members of the society are retirees from diverse walks of life who have found a commonality in the camellia. A research entomologist himself, Hogsette finds this extremely valuable.

“We have a lot of retirees that come from other parts of the world,” Hogsette said. “And they were gardeners where they were, and so we give them the advice and information to garden here, mainly with camellias.”

Hogsette, who has 500 camellias of his own, said the flower’s endless size and color variations — over 5,000 in number — is what makes growing them so addicting.

“Everytime you think you saw the last one, you see another one.” Hogsette said.

Hogsette suggests that those interested in learning more about the camellia attend a society meeting, which meets the third Sunday of every month from September through May at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. These monthly meetings are devoted to discussing the technicalities of growing camellias, including air layering, grafting and applying gibberellic acid for larger blooms.

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More information about the Gainesville Camellia Society can be found on its website.

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