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Pampered camellias finally bloom

It has become a ritual for me. Every day for the last couple of months, I have done it without fail. I walked into my backyard to check on my camellias. Like caring for a newborn, I cuddled and adored them, even wrapping some of them in blankets when the temperatures dropped below freezing. I was determined I would finally see some of their blooms.

Most of our yard is engulfed with camellias of all shapes, colors and sizes. I can’t take the credit for their beauty. They were planted many years ago by the people who built our house. We are just lucky enough to reap the beauty of their labors.

Some of our camellia bushes are well over 20 feet tall. They stand tall and proud as they offer gorgeous colors when almost everything else is dull. Their shiny and lush deep green foliage always remains the same and offers up the perfect backdrop to showcase their vividly colored blossoms.

Almost two years ago when the tornado came through our town on Mother’s Day, a tree fell and took with it three or four of our large and showy camellia bushes. It was horrifying to see them crushed and mangled under the weight of the extremely large, old oak tree. But who am I to question Mother Nature?

When faced with a tragic situation that has to be resolved, I always try to see the good side of it. In this situation, I coaxed myself to think of ways I could get excited about starting over with that gap in our garden. I stood there silently and studied the empty void the fallen tree had left. I knew I definitely wanted to replant some camellias in the same place the others had occupied. But I also realized they wouldn’t be as large and it would take years and years to catch up with the huge existing ones.

So I decided I would plant some new and different varieties of camellias that I liked. This time I would be in control of the color choices and bloom sizes. I shifted my thoughts and looked at the barren space as a blank canvas. Instead of paint, I would use colorful new camellia plants. I was excited! Off I went to start my new collection.

I had always wanted some pure white ones, especially the Emmett Barnes camellia in particular. I had its image on a set of porcelain plates in my home, but I had never had any of the actual plants in my garden. Finding them was a little tricky, but that is another story. I had also always wanted a variegated red and white camellia — one that resembles peppermint candy and some pink varieties that have unusual speckles and stripes. I planted them when they had nothing but green leaves, so I couldn’t wait to see their blooms.

Last year I had several of the white ones bloom but the other ones decided not to. I was so disappointed. I had to wait until this year for their debut in my garden. Last fall I noticed lots of buds forming so I continued to fertilize them and keep them watered. The buds got larger and larger as did my anticipation of their arrival. I didn’t know their exact due date, but I had certainly prepared their nursery. I checked on them every day without fail.

As many of you camellia growers know, below-freezing temperatures and camellia bushes are not friends. Just when the color started to chance it and peek through the top of the green bud, our temperatures would dip into the low 20s. Bundled up, I would go out and cover the smaller ones with sheets to attempt to prevent cold damage to the blooms. Even when it was dark and I was tired and cold, I made my trek out to where my new plants were freezing. I was bound and determined I was going to see their blooms this year.

Last week my wish came true. Each one of them offered up their blooms. Shades of pink and white blended beautifully with the red and white peppermint variegated one. I was so thrilled. Even though they were much smaller than the already established bushes, they held their own with their gorgeous blooms.

I still go out there and visit with them every day. I have picked some and made several wonderful arrangements. When I was clipping some the other day, I realized how incredibly blessed we are to have their beauty in our area. I’ve been told our soil is perfect for them. You can hardly drive anywhere without seeing bushes loaded with blooms. We even have the American Camellia Society Headquarters nearby.

So take some time this week to enjoy the gift of their beauty. Clip some and put them in vases to enjoy inside. They will brighten your home and lift your spirits. Plus they always tell us that spring can’t be too far behind!

More with Mark

n Visit Mark and other artists and crafters at the 40th annual Mulberry Street Festival on March 27 and 28 in downtown Macon. Mark will be selling his books, prints, cards and new spring T-shirts and aprons.

n Check out Mark’s Web site, www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff.

n Mark is on www.macon.com 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; fax them to (478) 474-4930 or call (478) 757-6877.

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