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Camellias at Middleton Place

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Published on Jan 2, 2012

Celebrating Camellias at Middleton Place

For generations, Middleton family oral tradition has held that in 1786 the famed French botanist André Michaux brought four camellia plants to Middleton Place. Michaux was commissioned by King Louis XVI to find useful trees and flora to enrich his home country of France. He was known to present exotic plants to land owners and other dignitaries in order to gain favor and obtain collecting rights. According to the oral tradition, the original camellias presented by Michaux were planted at each corner of the main Parterre. Camellias would have been among the most treasured specimens for an 18th century American garden, so these were appropriately placed at opposing ends of the two green walks, close to the house where they and other rare plants could be under the watchful eye of both the owner and his enslaved gardeners.

Today, perched high above the Butterfly Lakes on the northeast corner of the Parterre, one of the original camellias has outlasted all the others and it remains a living reminder of the Michaux tradition. While the "Reine des Fleurs," as it's called, continues to be the queen of the gardens, literally thousands (actually counted by Sidney Frazier, VP Horticulture) of old camellias shape the architecture of the alleés, paths and secret gardens. Still many more important varieties from the heyday of camellia propagation in the 1940s enhance the Middleton Place collection. Delicate red, white, pink and variegated blooms delight and amaze thousands of garden visitors each year, and the annual performance continues to put them, as it did John Michel in 1857 into "a condition of ecstasy."

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