Explore diversities in agriculture by visiting the HRS Camellia Garden Stroll
Over 500 types of camellia flowers will be available for guests to view at the Camellia Garden’s Stroll through the W.F. “Hody” Wilson Garden. The stroll has been an annual event since the early 2000s, because of the efforts of W. F. “Hody” Wilson Jr., who was superintendent of the Hammond Research Center from the mid-1930s until 1975. Wilson was known for his breeding of camellias internationally.
The Garden Stroll will take place on Feb. 19 from 1-4 p.m. Assistant Extension Agent Whitney Wallace extended the invitations to the general public and asks that only service animals be brought to the garden.
“Please enjoy the rare beauty of this garden,” said Wallace. “If you want to bring the beauty of a camellia home, there are many plants of different colors and varieties that will be for sale in the lab building We welcome the public to walk the forest path, view glorious blooms, one-of-a-kind varieties of camellias and speak with experts and enthusiast from all over the region.”
The W.F. “ Hody” Wilson Garden is now listed as one of the Founding Gardens by the American Camellia Society as part of their American Camellia Trail, which lists all the camellia collections of interest.
The Camellia Garden will now continue at the Hammond Research Station because of an effort to provide educational and research support for the growing commercial landscape industry in Florida Parish.
The LSU AgCenter and the Tangipahoa Parish Master Gardener Association teamed up to take care of the Camellias that faced several struggles, such as neglect, snow and hurricanes, which resulted in the loss of entire Camellia breeds.
“Damage from hurricanes Katrina and Gustav as well as an unexpected 8-10 inches of snow broke the branches and even the trunks of many of these exceptional plants, but many are coming back while others will not,” said Wallace.
The Hammond Research Center, and the LSU AgCenter support the agricultural industries, improve the environment and the community by engaging community members to be a part of their 4-H youth programs as well as their family and consumer sciences. The Camellia Stroll is one of their community development programs. Students and other guests can donate their time to the Camellia Gardens to help prevent the loss of more specific breeds. Wallace expanded on what the gardens need help with the most.
“Volunteer time to help with parking, load vehicles with camellias and clean up and take down,” said Wallace. “Our Master Gardeners could use the help of community volunteers such as Boys Scouts, non-profit organizations or anyone willing to donate their time.”
Wilson bred several selections of camellias, in different environments to produce more tolerant varieties from the 1930s to the 1950s.
“Hody loved camellias and was interested in improving camellias that could be grown and sold by LA nurseries,” said Wallace. “In fact, he donated 4000 of his own seedlings to get the project started.”
The hybrids were diverse enough that not all were named. This resulted in some of the tags on the camellias being labeled “XX.” However, due to a lack of financial aid and labor in the 1990s, the garden was left neglected. The HRS was focused more on produce than the flowers Wilson dedicated his career to. In 1999, the Tangipahoa Master Gardeners began cleaning and maintaining the garden. Experts named the surviving plants, but some were not named and others were unable to be salvaged. There were a couple varieties lost which were later found in Alabama, with the option that they might be able to be returned to the Camellia Gardens lost were found in a garden in AL and can be propagated and returned to their birthplace.
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