Explore winter blooming camellias at Eden Gardens State Park

January 24, 2018

Grace Albritton (C. japonica). This camellia was a ten-year-old chance seedling that first bloomed in 1967. Originiated in USA by A.D. Albritton, Tallahassee.
Grace Albritton (C. japonica). This camellia was a ten-year-old chance seedling that first bloomed in 1967. Originiated in USA by A.D. Albritton, Tallahassee. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Winter in northwest Florida typically doesn’t offer a wealth of colorful landscapes to explore. However, one exception is the beautiful abundance of flowering camellias at Eden Gardens State Park.

Naturally in bloom from October through March, there are more than 200 trees offering more than 40 different varieties to enjoy along the garden trails. With the nurturing of dedicated volunteers, the camellias are a thriving part of the park’s wonderful gardens. The history dates back to the previous landowner, Lois Maxon, who developed the landscape surrounding her home, the Wesley House. With the assistance of a landscape architect from Tallahassee, Maxon planned out a variety of ornamental plants and statues. An abundance of azaleas dot the landscape in the spring and summer, and camellias offer color in the winter. Maxon donated her land to the State of Florida in late 1968, and then Eden officially became a State Park in 1971.

Carol Visalpatara shows air layering technique. You can easily see the new roots. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors
Carol Visalpatara shows air layering technique. You can easily see the new roots. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Much of the grounds became overgrown during the next several years, until The Friends of Eden Gardens stepped in. The Friends of Eden Gardens is a Citizens Support Organization (CSO) of volunteers who assist the Florida Park Service in the preservation, restoration and improvement of the park. It was founded in 1992, however it was a few years before they became contributory in the restoration of the gardens. One member, Manson Markette was instrumental in restoring, propagating, and caring for the camellias. Volunteer Carol Visalpatara carries on the practice today.

You can purchase by donation a camellia and other plants from Eden at the Friends nursery near the ranger station. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors
You can acquire a camellia and other plants from Eden at the Friends’ nursery near the ranger station. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

One of the many roles the volunteers participate in is air layering – a propagation method for plants that allows you to root branches while still attached to the parent plant, and grafting – the joining of one camellia to the root base of another to create new growth. The result of these processes creates new plants, which are available for a donation. Many of the unique species available cannot be found at any retail nursery, and are proven to be hearty plants. You can find the Friends of Eden nursery near the ranger station. The donations are accepted at the Friends’ honor box. Demonstrations of their craftwork are offered every year at the annual Camellia Festival held in February. This year it will be on February 20, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Interested in learning more? Volunteers from the Friends of Eden Gardens State Park are at the park every Tuesday from 9 – 11:30 a.m. New volunteers are always welcome. Learn more at their website by clicking here, or check out their Facebook page here.

About Eden Gardens State Park:
The focal point of the 161-acre park is the two-story Wesley house boasting large white columns and wrap-around porch. Originally owned by the Wesley’s a wealthy Florida timber family, the mansion was purchased in 1963 by Lois Maxon who renovated the home and created a showplace for family heirlooms and antiques. The collection of Louis XVI furniture is the second largest in the United States.

Guided tours of the Wesley house are available hourly Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (including holidays).

Additional park features include easy hiking trails through seven distinct natural communities: scrubby flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, floodplain swamp, wet flatwoods, baygall, xeric hammock and maritime hammock.

Head over to gardens of Eden and take a stroll through the park. You just might see a wedding in progress, as the exchanging of vows under the romantic oaks is a popular location.

Hours of Operation
The park is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to sundown.

Directions
Eden Gardens State Park is located in Point Washington, off U.S. 98 on C.R. 395.
For more information, call (850) 267-8320.
181 Eden Garden Road, Point Washington, Fl. 32459 ::MAP::
The park’s website is
https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Eden-Gardens

Park Fees
$4.00 per vehicle. Please use the honor box to pay fees. Correct change is required. Limit 8 people per vehicle.
$2.00 Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.
House Tours:
$4.00 per adult.
$2.00 per child.