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Trick leads to bounty of beautiful camellias

I just love surprises! Who doesn’t like it when you’re given a totally unexpected gift? Nature certainly offers me a gift each year at this time when the camellias in my yard start blooming. Even though it is freezing outside and almost everything else is dormant and gray, these Southern beauties never fail to offer us their beautiful flowers as a present.

The blooms on these camellias stand out like brightly colored pieces of candy against the rich and dark green leaves of the plants. I was lucky enough to have inherited most of my camellias. When we purchased the house we now live in, we reaped all the benefits of the former owner’s love of gardening. They lined the backyard with lots of camellia plants with various shades and sizes of blooms. Years have turned the small plants into giants. In fact, I have to retrieve a ladder to pluck some of the higher blooms.

I try to arrange as many bouquets of camellias as I can during their blooming season and bring them inside to enjoy. There is nothing that can brighten a day, light up a room or warm a heart like fresh flowers. They just have that kind of magical power.

For years, I had been searching for a certain kind of camellia plant. It is one I have become very familiar with during the last 20 years. It is called the Emmett Barnes Camellia and is named after a man in Macon who cultivated it. I have painted and rendered its likeness many times for the Barnes family. It is large, showy and white as freshly fallen snow.

I am somewhat surrounded by the beauty of this particular camellia. I have some china with its likeness beautifully decorating the center of each plate. I have some porcelain copies of it that look so real that even a bee would have to look twice to discover it’s not. I have formed hundreds of this camellia out of paper over the years. I even have prints of paintings I’ve done of it hanging here and there. All this, but I didn’t have the actual plant in my garden! That is until recently.

I cannot tell you the amount of time I have spent calling people all over the country trying to locate this pristine white camellia. But my efforts were to no avail. To be honest, I had pretty much given up, thinking I would just have to settle for all the images I have of it. But without my knowledge, my wife had launched a full Internet search for this flower.

Last October, I arranged the flowers for our friend’s wedding in the north Georgia mountains. After the wedding was over, we were invited back to spend the weekend with our friends at their house on Lake Hartwell. When we turned into the driveway of their home, I immediately saw several healthy camellia plants in pots. They were sitting in a flower bed ready to be planted. I could not wait to get out of the car to go up and give them a closer inspection.

As I glanced at the plants completely full of tiny buds, I noticed a white label on the side of each of the black plastic pots. I knelt down to see what was printed on the labels and screamed when I saw these three words — Emmett Barnes Camellia.

I immediately looked at the other members of the group, who were by now staring at me, and asked, “Where did you get these?” They replied, “At some plant nursery.” “We just thought we would use them to fill in here and there,” they continued. “I have got to have a least one of these,” I exclaimed. “I have been searching for this particular kind for years!” What I didn’t say but was swirling around in my mind went something like this, “These people don’t even know what they have. I really want all three of them.” All the while my heart was pounding. What were the chances of them finding some?

Laughter came across each of their faces as if they had just heard some hilarious joke. I didn’t understand, but the joke was on me. My wife had located a nursery in Athens that carried them. She enlisted the help of our friend’s brother to go get them and bring them to the lake house. They were mine all the time. It was a very elaborate plan explicitly carried out. What a wonderful surprise!

You would not believe how I have watched and watched these prized camellias like a hawk waiting for them to open. Even though they have not opened yet, I am very much awaiting their debut in our garden with glee.

Surprises and gifts have the ability to come in all forms, shapes, colors and sizes. In these bleak days and unsettled times, we should all learn a lesson from our Southern camellia bushes. When everything looks dark and dormant, they choose to burst into colorful blooms with the sole purpose of brightening our landscape. By doing so, they give us hope for springtime. We all need to think of ways to brighten others’ lives. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It could be as simple as a card or phone call. Go out and create something beautiful for someone else this week!

You can find the instructions and patterns for making some camellias out of paper by going to and clicking on “In the Craft Room.”


Ÿ Tea Party with Mark, from noon-2 p.m. Jan. 31 at Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Forsyth. For ticket information, call Dorothy Edge at (478) 994-5832. Event benefits the church’s Relay for Life Team.

Ÿ Check out Mark’s Web site,, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff for the new year.

Ÿ See “The Mark Ballard Show” on Cox On-Demand.

Ÿ Mark’s on 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Allen Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA; fax them to (478) 474-4390; or call (478) 757-6877.