The American Camellia Society’s Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley, GA, one of only two public gardens maintained by a national plant society. This property already contained a collection of mature specimens when the 150-acre farm was donated to the society by David C. Strother in 1966. Now it also contains the ACS headquarters, a visitor center, an extensive porcelain collection, various display gardens, woodland areas, a pavilion and seating areas overlooking a tranquil pond. The nine acres of developed gardens have views of woodlands, a pond and a pecan orchard on the rest of the property. Millstones are used to accent the paving, grounding you more in the history and the region.
Operations Manager William Khoury toured me and the two Camellia enthusiasts with me through the Camellias. I learned a lot that day. And, thanks to the extensive Camellia plant selection for sale, ‘Spring Festival’ and ‘Wendzalea’ rode home with us in the back seat. We were enchanted by the many blooms when we visited in mid-January, but Massee Lane Gardens is at its peak in February, when they hold the annual Festival of Camellias. This month-long event includes daily tours and exhibits, painting and craft classes, on-site lunch options, wildlife program, children’s activities and more.
I ventured off on my own for a bit, photographing remnants of the old farm and close-ups of Camellia blooms. Then I discovered the Stevens-Taylor Gallery filled with porcelain on display. I especially enjoyed the detailed birds and flowers. Another extensive porcelain exhibit is in a large gallery inside the visitor center and includes a few massive pieces, including a snowy owl. Massee Lane Gardens is home to the largest collection of Edward Marshall Boehm porcelain sculptures on public display in the United States and includes Cybis, Connoisseur, Bronn and other porcelains in their collection.
Massee Lane Gardens is a special place, offering a vast collection of well-labeled Camellias with complementary woodland plants such as ferns and heucheras, and a surprisingly large visitor center and porcelain collection. Part of Massee Lane’s charm is the feeling that the world has slowed down, and it is fine to take time to breathe in the scent of a camellia blossom, sit on a bench, play with different angles in a camera, or take in the details and beauty in a piece of porcelain.
Visited: Friday, January 15, 2021
Location: 100 Massee Lane, Fort Valley, Georgia 31030
Great web page for visiting during the February 2021 peak season: https://www.americancamellias.com/news-events/festival-of-camellias-at-massee-lane-gardens-2021
Accessibility: Accessible buildings and parking. Original brick paths were no problem for my friend’s 4-wheel scooter, but could be tiring for someone pushing a wheelchair, especially on a crowded day. The brick paths were built when this was a private collection, so are not promenades. There are asphalt paths that provide easy access to many camellias and a pavilion overlooking the pond.
Both porcelain exhibits are very accessible. The Stevens-Taylor Gallery is close to the visitor center, a quick walk via paved paths, a ramp and a rose garden.
Gift shop: Surprisingly extensive, including books, jewelry, home décor, gifts, tea and more. They have a handy book at the checkout counter that describes and shows each of the many plants that they offer for sale (Oct.-April). The entrance to the gardens and porcelain collection is through the gift shop, where you can pay a low entry fee into the garden (we opted to become members of the Camellia Society for only a couple dollars more).
Standing under blooming camellia trees. I now want a camellia forest on my property with a bright Tiffany Blue bench underneath to contrast with the blooming trees and the carpet of blooms on the ground below (I originally thought of a yoga platform but get real – I am much more likely to use a bench.)
Nearby and lunch ideas: The staff at Massee Lane Gardens recommended The Swanson Restaurant; I like The Perfect Pear for lunch. The two restaurants are a block apart in downtown Perry, GA. Check menus and hours online. Reservations would be a good idea. All around are fun shops. I could spend well over an hour roaming downtown Perry.
Note: Peak Camellia season occurs among the shortest days of the year. I like to fit day trips into daylight hours, which means getting on the road early to allow time for lunch and a stop or two. It takes about 2-1/2 to 3 hours to drive from Athens, GA, an easy day trip. Yes, it is a short drive from I-75, but beware of the route that your phone gives you. If you take the fastest route you will miss so much. Our route through Madison, Forsyth and Musella included views of pastures, farmland, historic homes and town squares. It adds a few minutes but turns the trip into an experience. From Musella to Massee Lane Gardens was enchanting, with an abundance of pecan and peach orchards (Peach County, GA, is aptly named.)
Trivia: Did you know that black, white and green teas are all created from Camellia sinensis leaves? The different teas are the result of different growing, harvesting and processing. Also, these camellias grow well in Georgia. I have two plants in my shade garden and drink tea daily but doubt I will ever try crafting my own tea.
Loves Notes from the Garden
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