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CHAMPION OF CAMELLIAS

BY BRUCE BRANUM AND ANNIE CRENSHAW

 

Barbara Middleton has been a champion of camellias for decades.

“Camellias are my passion!” she says. And, she really means it.

She’s dedicated to promoting the beauty and significance of these gorgeous blooming shrubs from the tea family.

Years ago, while researching her late husband’s family roots, Middleton traveled to Charleston, S.C., and toured historic Middleton Place and Gardens.

“Middleton Place claims to have the oldest formal gardens in America,” she said. “I was inspired by their beautiful camellias and returned home and planted my own camellia gardens.”

Researching local camellias, she discovered that camellias were brought to Butler County by settlers from the Carolinas in the nineteenth century.

Shrubs planted in the 1840s-1850s were still thriving and blooming well into the twentieth century.

“Greenville and Butler County have a great treasure in camellias that make our town and county a show place,” she points out.

She has tirelessly promoted and encouraged local camellia horticulture, and gives programs on the heritage of Greenville as “The Camellia City.”

During her long-time presidency of the Butler County Historical Society, Middleton organized and helped the Society hold camellia shows in Greenville in 2002 and again 2009 – the 50th anniversary of the camellia being named Alabama’s state flower, thanks to Greenville residents and Butler County’s state representative at the time, Lamont Glass.

In March 2019, Middleton represented Greenville and its camellias at the American Camellia Society convention in Mobile.

Her display booth was “swamped” the entire public viewing day, with crowds of people asking about Greenville and its camellias.

She’s an enthusiastic camellia photographer and has done lovely watercolor camellia paintings, as well.

As a member of the Sasanqua Garden Club and a “champion” promoter of camellias, Middleton is participating in the American Camellia Society’s event on April 14, when Greenville is announced as a new site on the National Camellia Trail.

“We’re still trying to find living examples of all of Greenville’s and Butler County’s camellias,” Middleton said.

“For instance, the Stabler Pink is one we’d like to identify and propagate.”

In the 1940s-1950s, this camellia was known to be on the grounds of the antebellum home of the late Dr. Vernon Stabler Sr. at 710 Fort Dale Road. Dr. L. V. Stabler registered his camellia with the American Camellia Society in 1954.

“Dr. Stabler’s residence was landscaped by Stewart Washburn and had a fine collection of heirloom camellias, including the Stabler Pink,” says Middleton, “but we’re not sure if that particular shrub has survived until today. If anyone can help us identify this particular camellia, we’d be glad to hear from you.”

You can contact Barbara Middleton at (334) 368-1570, or by email: barbaramiddleton470@gmail.com.

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