Butler County camellia exhibit to be held Sunday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 26, 2002

"Down in Alabama, kissed by southern moons, grows a lovely flower, fairest of blooms…"

In 1945 a fifth grade teacher named Mrs. F.P. Gates penned these words as the opening lines to a theme song for an original play presented at W.O. Parmer School. Gates' production honored both the history of the county and its fair flower' known as the "camellia japonica."

Nearly 60 years later, the number and variety of camellias found in Greenville are more abundant than ever. Local amateur gardening enthusiasts will have the opportunity to exhibit their prize blooms in a camellia show sponsored by the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society (BCHS). The show is scheduled for this Sunday, January 27 at 2 p.m. at Greenville City Hall.

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The show is also slated to feature information on pruning, propagating and caring for the shrubs, and exhibits on the local history and heritage of the camellia. Camellia paintings done by noted local artists including Shirley Roberson and Juanita Carter will be on exhibit and refreshments will be served.

While the state of Alabama adopted the camellia as its official flower in 1959, the flowering plant's local history goes back much farther.

The cultivated camellia plant, a native of China, has graced the city of Greenville for close to 150 years.

In 1937, Holland Magazine's garden editor, Crenshaw County native Ben Arthur Davis, visited Greenville and was amazed to discover there was such an abundance of large and beautiful camellia plants in a town as small as Greenville.

Greenville was first officially dubbed the Camellia City' by newspaper editor J. Glenn Stanley in The Greenville Advocate in 1938. Stanley's nickname for the city quickly became a hit.'

Thousands of new camellia plants joined older varieties in homes, parks and public buildings across the city while businesses and civic organizations gladly adopted the new slogan.

Throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the Butler County seat's pride in its new status was displayed through the numerous Advocate articles and photos featuring Greenville's bevy of flowering beauties.

In 1939 the very first camellia show was held in the newly named Camellia City', allowing local residents to come together and enjoy the beauty of the fabled flower. For many years this show, along with school pageants, local festivals and organized plantings by clubs, churches and school classes, were an annual event in Greenville.

2002 will mark the first official camellia show Greenville has held in a number of years. But organizers certainly hope it won't be the last.

"We would love to see the camellia show become a regular tradition in our city once more," says BCHS President Barbara Middleton.

"The camellia is such a beautiful and special part of our local heritage and we should both acknowledge and celebrate that fact…drive around this city and you will see so many lovely camellia plants. We have our own Camellia Trail' mapped out that you can follow and see both wonderful historic homes and a wonderful variety of these flowers," Middleton notes.

For those who cannot attend Sunday's show, the blossoms will remain on exhibit until 4 p.m. on Monday, January 28 at City Hall. In the event of freezing weather preventing a camellia display, the public is still invited to come and enjoy the art exhibit, refreshments and an informative program presented by Middleton. For more information, contact Barbara Middleton at (334) 227-4570.