By Camille Bielby
Massee Lane Gardens

Massee Lane Gardens celebrates a half-century as one of the most prized camellia gardens in the nation, thanks to the generosity of David Coleman Strother of Fort Valley, Georgia. The central Georgia businessman guaranteed the future of the American Camellia Society when he deeded his private seven-acre camellia garden and adjoining 120 acres of farmland to become the Society’s permanent headquarters.

Camelias Massee Lane
This Camellia vernalis is named ‘Shibori-egao,’ which means “Variegated Smiling Face.” It thrives at Massee Lane Gardens. Photo courtesy Massee Lane Gardens.

The 2019 Festival of Camellias will showcase the history of the genus Camellia, the history of the American Camellia Society, and the history of Massee Lane Gardens during the camellia blooming season with a live camellia plant sale, special events, tours, and box lunches. A history exhibit and artwork of local students will be on display throughout the season.

Located just a few miles south of Fort Valley, Georgia, Massee Lane Gardens is in full bloom in the cool months of the year, with the most substantial quantity of camellias in peak bloom during the month of February. The bloom season and plant sale will extend through late April.

Massee Lane Garden
The brick pathways of David Coleman Strother’s private gardens welcome “camelliaphiles” from all over the world. Photo courtesy Massee Lane Gardens.

On January 26, 2019, the Middle Georgia Camellia Society will host a camellia care and culture workshop at Massee Lane Gardens. Sessions will include a basic care lecture, demonstrations on waxing camellias and planting camellias, and hands-on workshops that will teach air layering, grafting, and hybridizing techniques. Advance registration of $20 is required and includes a Chick-Fil-A boxed lunch, all workshop materials, plus garden admissions. Email Mark Collier at for more information on how to sign-up.

high grafting pruckler - Massee Lane
Jimmy Pruckler, of the North Georgia Camellia Society, will be giving a talk on high grafting techniques at Massee Lane Gardens this February. Photo courtesy Massee Lane Gardens.

Massee Lane Gardens offers extended hours in February and is open Mondays in addition to the regular hours of Tuesday through Sunday. An easy-to-follow map of the 30-acre botanical garden and museum galleries allows guests to tour the seven specialty camellia gardens at their own pace. Peak season kicks off with a celebration on Saturday, February 2, 2019. Admission will be free from 10:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and includes self-guided tours, free scavenger hunts with fun prizes for children, a camellia coloring activity, a clay camellia-making art activity, and two food trucks. A special Ikebana exhibition will be hosted by the Ikebana International Middle Georgia Chapter. Dee Boran, a certified Ikebana instructor, will display Japanese floral arrangements from February 1- 3, 2019.

Professionally guided tours can be scheduled Tuesday through Friday in January and Monday through Friday in February for groups of ten or more for $5 per person. Box lunches can be ordered with February tours for $15 per person (includes tour guide and lunch). Guests may pre-order ham on artisan bread with lettuce and tomato, turkey on artisan bread with lettuce and tomato, chicken salad on artisan bread with lettuce and tomato, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options. Each lunch includes a bag of chips, a pickle spear, a fresh fruit salad, a homemade cookie, and a bottle of water. Lunch is served between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Tours can be scheduled either before or after the meal.

A complimentary tea tasting each Monday in February will showcase one of the most popular camellias in the world—the species Camellia sinensis, which is the common tea plant. Guests can tour the gardens and then enjoy a specialty tea from the Massee Lane Gift Shop. Tea plants are also for sale so that you can start your own backyard tea garden. A presentation on Paulownia Tea will be delivered at 11:00 a.m. February 6, 2019, by Lubana Shahin, a biotechnology graduate research assistant at Fort Valley State University.

February 9, 2019, will be all about Art in the Gardens. Advance registration is required for each class by January 31, 2019, which includes class supplies and garden admission. A camellia painting class using the “One Stroke” oil painting technique will be taught at 11:00 a.m. by artist Shirley Rainwater of Lizella, Georgia. Rainwater holds a Level II Art Instruction Certification from Dewberry University in Orlando, Florida. She was taught by Donna Dewberry, who invented the one-stroke technique. Registration is $35, and participants will complete an 11 x 14 canvas painting. Registration includes materials and garden admission.

Professional portrait and art photographer and photojournalist, Judy Robinson, will lead a photography walk through the garden. Robinson is the general manager and publisher of The Leader Tribune in Fort Valley, Georgia. She will give a brief introduction to basic outdoor photography principles, followed by a guided walk through the garden to take photographs. There is no cost (beyond garden admission) for the class, but advance registration is required. The course will be a fun opportunity for beginners as well as more advanced photographers. Guests can bring their choice of photographic device, from a simple cell phone to advanced digital cameras.

A camellia waxing demonstration will be conducted by Jo Ann Dankle of Fort Valley, Georgia at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, February 13, 2019. Dipping camellias in a mixture of wax and mineral oil preserves the blooms for days and makes camellias from the garden look like perfect porcelain sculptures.

Saturday, February 16, 2019, will continue celebrating the enjoyment of tea. Debbie Odom, co-owner of Tsubaki Tea, the CamelliaShop Nursery, and Gene’s Nursery of Savannah, Georgia, will give an informative presentation on growing your own tea—Camellia sinensis. Odom will answer questions about harvesting tea leaves and preparing them for brewing. There is no cost beyond admission for this program. At 2:00 p.m., Peach Palette Pottery of Perry, Georgia will host a mug painting class. Registration is $30 and includes the mug, paint, and firing as well as garden admission.

February 20, 2019, will be an educational day, chock full of camellia know how. Jim Pruckler of Decatur, Georgia will give a presentation highlighting the “New Grafted Camellias at Massee Lane Gardens.” Pruckler has been working on grafting important varieties onto existing large root stock in the species garden with remarkable success. His overview will help home gardeners who may wish to preserve a particular variety or to use an existing plant as rootstock for a new or more desirable variety. Houston County Extension Agent Jeff Cook will follow at 1:00 p.m. with a presentation on soil sampling and site preparation for camellia gardens. Both sessions are free with garden admission.

The Middle Georgia Camellia Society and Flint Energies are hosting a competitively judged camellia show on February 23 and 24, 2019. Growers from all over the Southeast will bring over a thousand camellia blooms to be judged by American Camellia Society accredited judges. A special novice show class is available for home gardeners to enter blooms and compete for prizes. There is no cost to enter blooms and experts are available to help identify and prepare blooms for entry. Bloom entry is from 7:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. The show opens to the public on Saturday from 1:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. and there is no cost to view the show.

Finally, on Saturday, March 2, 2019, wind down with an hour and a half of yoga in the gardens. Nikki Hadbavny will provide mats and lead the class in the beautiful Fetterman Museum Gallery. The yoga class is free with garden admission.

Visit and click Festival of Camellias to view and print a full schedule, reservation details, and special event costs. Call (877) 422- 6355 toll-free to make reservations for Garden Tours, Luncheons and Art Classes.

Massee Lane Gardens is located seven miles south of Fort Valley Georgia off Georgia Highway 49, at 100 Massee Lane, Fort Valley, Georgia 31030. For questions, more information, and reservations call (478) 967-2358 or email



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