Today Amy is sharing her beautiful garden in Suffolk, Virginia.
We are the third owners of a house built almost 70 years ago. Dr. James “Tubby” Habel Jr., who designed and built the house in 1954 with his wife, Allie, was an obstetrician by trade, but also a camellia propagator. Every part of the yard has camellias on top of camellias, thanks to him. My husband and I always appreciated the yard, but with busy lives, work, and family, it was back of mind and mostly pure maintenance.
Over the past year, that changed. First, on August 4, 2020, a tornado came through our neighborhood. We were fortunate to have little structural damage (several homes are still being rebuilt 11 months later), but we lost 11 trees, most of which were 75 to 150 feet tall. One large pecan tree wiped out a 30-foot by 18-foot border that had been full of camellias, trees, and azaleas, and several other borders were severely altered. At first this was sad and disappointing, but after months and months of working to clean up and beginning the task of replanting the areas destroyed, we came to be more intimately connected with the garden and its design. Then in January 2021 I got a knock on my door. Bob Black, a camellia expert and VP of horticulture at a large local nursery, was looking for a special camellia variety that he knew used to be in our yard and was asking if he could take a look around. As we trudged through the back hill filled with over a hundred or more camellias, hunting for something called ‘Virginia Sunrise’, Bob explained how he had met Dr. Habel in the ’80s when first out of college and learned and worked with him on all things camellias. He told me how Dr. Habel had been president of the Virginia Camellia Society as well as the American Camellia Society and that he’d registered dozens of varieties that he’d bred. He walked me through the yard, pointing out some special varieties, and answered my many questions on how to take better care of them. It was like a college course on the history of our yard, and I was so happy and thankful that Bob came looking for ‘Virginia Sunrise’ that day!
I don’t know if it was due to Bob’s history lesson, or the extra rain we got in January, or if being home all the time due to the pandemic gave us the space to spend more time in the garden, but the camellias and the garden were like a magical forest this year, and my husband and I would walk around almost every day appreciating the amazing gift of this garden. When we were fully vaccinated, our first trip was to see several historical camellia gardens. We have to say that Dr. Habel’s just might be better.
I know camellias are winter blooming, so this may be of interest for later, but also I want to encourage people to plant camellias this fall! I think they are underrated, and they are gorgeous year-round.
A camellia (Camellia japonica, Zones 7–10) in soft pink with darker petal edges
A beautiful floral fireworks display in red and white
A semi-double soft pink bloom
A rich pink formal double bloom
Stunning in bloom, the glossy evergreen foliage of these camellias always looks good as well.
Many camellia varieties have flowers that stay colorful and beautiful even after they drop off the plant, creating incredible carpets of color.
What a magical forest of blooms to explore.
This white camellia might be the variety ‘Allie Blue’.
Stunning red-and-white-patterned bloom.
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