Gainesville Camellia Society---Florida


Coping with the Contagious Camellia Virus

by GCS Member --- Chuck Ritter

About five years ago, Bev and I began to landscape our five acres on Lake Rosa, which is located near the small town of Melrose, Florida. At that time, camellias were on our list of plants to include in our landscaping effort but were just one of many, many plant varieties we were considering that would grow well here.

It's hard to determine where, when, or how I was first bitten by the camellia bug. Perhaps these bugs are indigenous to our property, we have a few 30- to 40-year old camellias that were here before we were. But the obsession didn't really become a problem until a visit to Jim Smith's Old South Nursery where we saw "hundreds" of varieties of camellias. It was there, in 1994, that my first symptom of the camellia virus (i.e., the inability to clearly distinguish how many plants you're loading into your vehicle or how many trips you're making, affectionately known by local Camellia Virus Specialists as the Diane Fisher Syndrome) first manifested itself.

Subsequently, I began having strange dreams. In one recurring dream, I would be standing on some corner in Gainesville holding a sign which read, "Will work for Camellias." In another, I'm blaming my wife for listening to me and letting me talk her out of buying the property next door when it was available. For the next year or so, I dug holes during the day and dreamt of digging holes at night.

In January of 1996, Bev and I discovered, by chance, a camellia show in progress at the Oaks Mall. Rather quickly, I learned that there were many hundreds of beautiful flowers that I didn't have; that there were nurseries I had not discovered, Jerry Conrad and others; that George Gerbing, at that time, did grafts on request; that Hulyn Smith provided scions; and that Nuccio's Nurseries would ship plants from California. At that point, I began to experience another symptom of the camellia virus-the inability to understand that an infinite number of camellia varieties cannot be nurtured on five acres. Clearly my life savings, as well as my social life, other vegetation, and marital bliss were at risk.

Fortunately, as we were leaving the show, we stopped by the local Camellias Anonymous Association (a.k.a. GCS) Booth. One of the people there (Lionel Worthy) obviously recognized my symptoms and quickly signed us up as ACS and GCS members.

Since joining the GCS, attending meetings, realizing that I am only one of many who "must" enjoy the wonderful consequences of "the virus," I have had many helpful therapy sessions with local Camellia Virus Specialists.

For example, at James and June Norman's therapy garden, I have learned that it is possible to grow thousands of "enormous" show-winning blooms on less than 250 plants. (I'm still not sure, though, why Jim finds it necessary to have so many ID tags on each plant.) At Howard and Mary Ruth Smith's therapy garden, I learned that air layering, chocolate cake, and southern hospitality will definitely soften the anguish and expense of living with this virus. And at Clarence and Lillian Gordy's therapy garden, I was totally cured of my fantasy of having the most beautiful camellia garden in North Central Florida. I also learned that if you grow many thousands of show-winning flowers (on more than 250 plants), you get to visit many places during the camellia season. (One unfortunate result of my visits there has been the recurrence of my dream of the property next door which, of course, is no longer available.)

With the help of these and many other kind people, I have learned to eagerly accept the fact that, though the camellia virus is apparently incurable and often contagious, it often leads to a longer life filled with beauty and the joy of sharing.

As part of my ongoing therapy, I have begun research to determine what really are the most beautiful camellia blooms that grow well in Florida. The listings that follow are a start in that direction. I plan to continuously update and expand (there I go being obsessive again) these lists so that eventually my garden, and hopefully yours, will contain a significant number of these plants. Many will have show-winning potential and many will simply be beautiful flowers that extend the blooming season to its maximum.

I look forward to continuing help from those who have coped so well with the camellia virus and to sharing any meaningful results with all who have similar interests.

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