Massee Lane Gardens


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:

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.

I would call Lenten rose deer proof

It is risky to call any plant deer proof, but there are a few I would give that tag. One is Lenten Rose (Helleborus xhybridus or ), which seems like the perfect plant to me. It is evergreen, tolerates part to deep shade, resistant to deer and other pests, and blooms when few other plants bloom. Not just any flower either – sculptural, perfect blooms that entices me to pull out a sketchbook and concentrate on their beauty.

Lenten Rose is hardy from Zones 4-9 and is one of the longest blooming perennials in cultivation, with blooms that last for six weeks or more. To make it even more desirable, it is one of the earliest blooming perennials, with blooms starting as early as January in Georgia and lasting into April. Who couldn’t love a plant that blooms even before the daffodils?

Glossy, bold, leathery foliage is a year-round asset to the shade garden. Leaves are divided into seven to nine segments, falling away from the central stem like an umbrella. These coarse leaves are a great contrast with ferns and bleeding hearts. Although they are evergreen, the leaves can look a little ragged before the new growth emerges. This is just a little winter burn and aging foliage. Trimming off some of the older foliage in January or February not only makes the plants look better; it shows off the blooms better too.

The perfect spot for a Lenten Rose would be in deciduous shade, protected from the wind, in rich soil with plenty of moisture but good drainage. They would like the bank of a creek, along a woodland path. Lenten roses do better planted among hardwoods than pines, because they appreciate winter sun and pine needles accumulating around them can hinder growth. One thing Hellebores cannot take is soggy soil.

These plants are disease and pest resistant and prefer to be left alone. Once established, Lenten roses reseed to form a colony, creating a dramatic woodland groundcover that blooms in various colors. Seedlings can be dug up and moved, but established plants resent being moved or divided and may not bloom the following year.

My first few plants have reseeded to create a colony in my shade garden, with each plant producing slightly different blooms. The blooms come in many colors, including white, pale yellow, pink, maroon, purple and speckled. These are subtle, beautiful, nodding blooms on evergreen plants that are eighteen to twenty-four inches tall.

I love my colony of reseeded Lenten Roses but, oh my, what are available in nurseries now are stunning. The breeders have been working on Lenten Roses and now offer double blooms in bright colors with their faces rising upward, or pale pink fluffy blooms comparable to an English Rose, or blooms that look like they were hand painted in a porcelain factory. Just do a search on Pinterest to be amazed at the variety and beauty. These new Lenten Roses can be pricey – and worth every penny. Once in your garden, they will become your favorite plant, asking little and giving so much.

I suggest you shop for these plants locally, when they are in bloom. Then you know exactly what the bloom will look like and buy a plant that is already at blooming age.

Dream Vacation for Garden Geeks – in Carolina.

This weekend I am reading up on the gardens I will soon be visiting in England. The adventure starts with a week in Sissinghurst, staying at the Priest’s House on the grounds. We can actually wake up in the morning, pad over to the window, and look out onto the famous White Garden. This stay includes access to Sissinghust grounds before and after hours. From there we will take day trips to nearby historic gardens and charming villages.

But you can have a similar experience by only crossing one state line, not a whole ocean. In March 2011 I attended a retreat at the Inn at Middleton Place. This inn is LEED certified, with each room offering a view of the river. Stroll down a path through the trees and enjoy a delicious breakfast outdoors or in a dining room with a woodland view. Middleton Place is one of the most famous gardens in the world, featured in landscape history courses and advertised as ‘America’s oldest landscaped gardens.’ It has been under the same family stewardship for over 300 years. One resident was President of the First Continental Congress, another a signer of the Declaration of Independence, The live oaks and camellias are ancient by our standards and the gardens and statuary are wonderful. It is where the first Camellia japonicas were probably introduced by André Michaux in 1786 and probably one of the places John and William Bartram visited (when they weren’t back in Philly chatting with Ben Franklin.) Middleton Place is also stunningly beautiful and peaceful.

Back to my visit. On Sunday morning I jumped out of bed, grabbed a camera, jacket and notebook and wandered the gardens at Middleton Place for a few hours, having the entire garden to myself. The birds were waking up. It was an incredibly peaceful, inspiring morning. Many of these photos are from that early March morning. I would think it would be as memorable an experience to visit the garden at twilight in summer, or during an early summer morning. Oh, and visiting other historic gardens and charming villages? The Inn at Middleton Place is about 15 miles from Charleston and just down the road from Magnolia Plantation and Drayton Hall, both well worth visiting.

My Spring Bulb Orders

OK, this was actually written on September 5th for my blog on the Georgia Gardening website, but it is not to late to order those bulbs! Yesterday I drove 1-1/2 hours each way to listen to 1-1/2 hours’ of talks as part of the national Daffodil Society annual meeting – and it was so inspiring and worth it! I have placed 2 of the 3 orders below and was waiting until I attended that meeting to place the third, so I will do that this morning. 

naturalized daffodils

I swear waiting for Hurricane Lee to arrive with much-needed rain for my garden is torture! So to distract myself from looking out the window every 30 seconds to see if it is raining yet I decided to place my orders for fall-planted bulbs. They will arrive to my garden when it is time to plant them, sometime in October. So instead of the typical ‘Fall Planted Bulbs’ discussion, today I’ll just chat about the bulbs I ordered and why and a few that I recommend that are already in my garden.

From Brent & Becky’s Bulbs: Brent Heath spoke at the Perennial Plant Association annual meeting in Atlanta this summer, so my order reflects the notes from his inspiring talk.  Daffodil ‘Monal’ is an early bloomer that takes the heat, and ‘Katie Heath’ performs well in the South, even in Dallas, TX. I definitely could use early bloomers in my garden. Although I have hundreds of daffodils, my garden seems to start blooming a week later than many others, so this year ‘February Gold’ is also on my list. When placing orders for daffodils, which are very long lived and deer-resistant, choose early, mid and late bloomers to create a long season of cheerful flowers each spring. I’ve chosen a few Ipheions, which Brent suggests scattering in the lawn, and Aliums, ornamental onions that come in many shapes and colors. Both are inexpensive, which makes it easy to try them out. I rarely order tulips, but ‘Lilac Wonder‘ is starred in my notes and too pretty to not order.

From Old House Gardens: This mail-order nursery specializes in heirloom bulbs and this year most the bulbs I chose date to the turn of the 17th Century. The exception is English bluebells, which date back to 1200. I also ordered Spanish bluebells and both like dry summers and shade – that I’ve got! The sternbergia looks like a big yellow crocus that blooms in fall and the sowbread cyclamen (which may not do well south of Athens) has leaves as pretty as its blooms.

From Lushlife Nurseries: I found out about this South Carolina nursery at the Garden Writers annual meeting last week. One of the few treasures in the garden surrounding my 50 year old house is a hymenocallis, a relative of amaryllis with large leaves and white blooms. When I received a small crinum bulb (also related to the amaryllis, rain lilies, and hymenocallis) last week from Lushlife Nurseries I had to find out more.  This blog post was a great intro. I couldn’t leave the Lushlife website ( without ordering ‘Bradley’. You can buy a bulb for yourself or send a gift box to a friend for a few dollars more, which is less expensive than most gifts and will bloom for decades! Expect this order to come quickly; there is no need to hold these bulbs for later planting.  I did receive my order quickly, with big, fat bulbs full of promise. Can’t wait to see them grow and bloom!

Favorites that I already have and heartily recommend you order:

From Old House Gardens: A Fall Planted Sampler. Just let them send you bulbs that will do well for your planting zone. It’s a great way to discover something new.

From Brent & Becky’s Bulbs: ‘Fragrant Rose’ daffodil, which is not only beautiful, but really does smell like a rose – a great conversation piece.

From your local garden center: Just about anything that inspires you, especially if the bulbs look fat and healthy and the photo inspires you. Indulge!

Ooh, I hear rumbling. Finally, the rains are coming!!!

The garden did get 1-1/2 inches of rain, much more than the 1/2″ that most of the county received. But the 10 day forecast only shows little chance of rain.

Add Interest to Your Winter Landscape

I have met homeowners who would not consider anything but evergreens in their front yard. What a shame, because the winter landscape can be so beautiful and so dramatically different. A landscape should celebrate the seasons. Blooms, berries, sculptural forms, increased visibility and attractive foliage all add to the character of a changing landscape.

Evergreens can form a strong backbone for our plantings and should be used in a landscape, but not exclusively. Dwarf conifers and ornamental grasses can add height and form to a perennial border, balancing the profusion of color spring through fall. In winter, when the perennials are subordinate, the shape of the conifer, the sound and movement of the dry grasses and the dramatic forms of seedheads become the focus.

Two of my favorite plants to enhance the winter landscape are daffodils and Lenten roses. Both are easy to grow, long-lived, deer resistant, and bloom when we so desperately need flowers in our life.

Winter is when groundcovers, subordinate to showier blooming plants, often get noticed. Evergreen groundcovers contrast with bare trees, brown lawns, and fallen leaves. The bold foliage of cast iron plant and holly fern, the delicate texture of autumn fern, the expanse of liriope or mondo grass, the color of ajuga foliage – all more noticeable in winter.

Trees and shrubs provide winter interest in many forms: foliage, structure, blooms, and bark. The dogwood is a classic example of a combination of all four. The horizontal branching, flower buds, rugged bark, red berries and early spring blooms make this an all season (albeit fussy) plant. Leatherleaf mahonia has bold evergreen foliage, fall color, yellow spring blooms and blue summer berries. Many of the best winter plants offer much in other seasons as well.

Other trees and shrubs with interesting winter structure include the weeping yaupon holly, the wonderful variety of dwarf conifers and the pieris. Foliage interest is added with the bold mahonia and magnolia, or the colorful aucuba and loropetalum,

Trees and shrubs with a show of berries include several hollies, pyracantha, cotoneaster and burning bush. Interesting bark can be found on river birch and oakleaf hydrangea (exfoliating), crape myrtle (mottled, smooth), burning bush (winged), kerria, coral bark maple and red twig dogwood (colorful) and corkscrew willow and Harry Lauder’s walking stick (contorted). Branches of these plants are fun to bring into the house for winter arrangements.

Many trees and shrubs have winter and early spring blooms, including camellias, quince, sweet olive, deciduous magnolias (which also have fat, fuzzy buds), winter daphne, winter jasmine, witch hazel and forsythia.

Ornamental grasses are at their peak in winter, with graceful forms topped by plumes ranging from airy to massive. Enjoy these all winter, then cut them back when the daffodils bloom to encourage more compact, upright growth.

This only highlights a few of the plants that can enhance the winter landscape. There are wonderful annuals, perennials, herbs and vines that can add much to your garden in winter. More can be discovered at the library or local nursery. I recommend a stroll through a botanical garden on a warm winter day, jotting down ideas in a little notebook.

When designing your landscape for winter interest, pay particular attention to those areas visible from inside your home so that you can enjoy the show. Also pay attention to the front entry and your path from the car to the house so that interesting, fragrant and colorful plants welcome visitors and you to your home.