Garden Photo of the Day

Historical Camellia Garden in Virginia

Caring for an incredible plant collection

light pink camellia with dark pink edges

Today Amy is sharing her beautiful garden in Suffolk, Virginia.

We are the third owners of a house built almost 70 years ago. Dr. James “Tubby” Habel Jr., who designed and built the house in 1954 with his wife, Allie, was an obstetrician by trade, but also a camellia propagator. Every part of the yard has camellias on top of camellias, thanks to him. My husband and I always appreciated the yard, but with busy lives, work, and family, it was back of mind and mostly pure maintenance.

Over the past year, that changed. First, on August 4, 2020, a tornado came through our neighborhood. We were fortunate to have little structural damage (several homes are still being rebuilt 11 months later), but we lost 11 trees, most of which were 75 to 150 feet tall. One large pecan tree wiped out a 30-foot by 18-foot border that had been full of camellias, trees, and azaleas, and several other borders were severely altered. At first this was sad and disappointing, but after months and months of working to clean up and beginning the task of replanting the areas destroyed, we came to be more intimately connected with the garden and its design. Then in January 2021 I got a knock on my door. Bob Black, a camellia expert and VP of horticulture at a large local nursery, was looking for a special camellia variety that he knew used to be in our yard and was asking if he could take a look around. As we trudged through the back hill filled with over a hundred or more camellias, hunting for something called ‘Virginia Sunrise’, Bob explained how he had met Dr. Habel in the ’80s when first out of college and learned and worked with him on all things camellias. He told me how Dr. Habel had been president of the Virginia Camellia Society as well as the American Camellia Society and that he’d registered dozens of varieties that he’d bred. He walked me through the yard, pointing out some special varieties, and answered my many questions on how to take better care of them. It was like a college course on the history of our yard, and I was so happy and thankful that Bob came looking for ‘Virginia Sunrise’ that day!

I don’t know if it was due to Bob’s history lesson, or the extra rain we got in January, or if being home all the time due to the pandemic gave us the space to spend more time in the garden, but the camellias and the garden were like a magical forest this year, and my husband and I would walk around almost every day appreciating the amazing gift of this garden. When we were fully vaccinated, our first trip was to see several historical camellia gardens. We have to say that Dr. Habel’s just might be better.

I know camellias are winter blooming, so this may be of interest for later, but also I want to encourage people to plant camellias this fall! I think they are underrated, and they are gorgeous year-round.

light pink camellia with dark pink edgesA camellia (Camellia japonica, Zones 7–10) in soft pink with darker petal edges

red and white camelliaA beautiful floral fireworks display in red and white

light pink camellia bloomA semi-double soft pink bloom

pink pink camelliasA rich pink formal double bloom

white and pink camelliasStunning in bloom, the glossy evergreen foliage of these camellias always looks good as well.

camellias with petals on the groundMany camellia varieties have flowers that stay colorful and beautiful even after they drop off the plant, creating incredible carpets of color.

trees and camelliasWhat a magical forest of blooms to explore.

white camelliaThis white camellia might be the variety ‘Allie Blue’.

red and white camelliaStunning red-and-white-patterned bloom.


Have a garden you’d like to share?

Have photos to share? We’d love to see your garden, a particular collection of plants you love, or a wonderful garden you had the chance to visit!

To submit, send 5-10 photos to [email protected] along with some information about the plants in the pictures and where you took the photos. We’d love to hear where you are located, how long you’ve been gardening, successes you are proud of, failures you learned from, hopes for the future, favorite plants, or funny stories from your garden.

If you want to send photos in separate emails to the GPOD email box that is just fine.

Have a mobile phone? Tag your photos on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with #FineGardening!

You don’t have to be a professional garden photographer – check out our garden photography tips!

Do you receive the GPOD by email yet? Sign up here.

View Comments


  1. Jay_Sifford 08/19/2021

    What a great story. I have always believed that the best gardens are those that tell a story, and yours certainly does. Thanks for sharing.

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 08/19/2021

    Amazing story. Don't you just love how camellia petals look when they are first littering the ground?

  3. Rebeccazone7 08/19/2021

    I'm always a bit fascinated with people who gravitate to only one flower. These are absolutely gorgeous and what a great bit of history for you to work with.

  4. gardendevas 08/19/2021

    Simply glorious!! This zone 5 gardener is envious, and hopes someday to experience camellias in bloom.

  5. sagebird52 08/19/2021

    Very beautiful, and unique.
    Descanso gardens in Pasadena has a large collection of camellias - liked it and love yours

  6. coastalgardener 08/19/2021

    Although I can't grow these in my area, I can certainly appreciate their beauty. I especially love that double pink variety. Thanks so much for sharing your photos and your story.

  7. btucker9675 08/19/2021

    What a great story and I know it increased your appreciation of your garden to have Mr. Black give you such a full history of the place and the people who originally created it. It's wonderful that you purchased this property and have continued to care for it instead of pulling everything out to make it "easy to maintain" like so many folks seem to do. Hope you have many years of enjoyment from these spectacular plants!

  8. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 08/19/2021

    Nice story, all that was lacking were photos of 'Virginia Sunrise'

  9. bunny2luv 08/19/2021

    Please tell! Did you actually find 'Virginia Surprise'? I sure hope so!

  10. User avater
    simplesue 08/19/2021

    Wow! Great garden story and amazing Camellia garden!

  11. Mashabear21 08/26/2021

    The lesson I have thoroughly learned, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.| Buffalo Deck Pros

  12. carolineyoungwilliams 09/14/2021

    Amy, Thank you for sharing your beautiful shrubs. I especially love the red & white beauty and the pink double bloom beauty.
    I love Camellias. They put on a beautiful display at a time when very few things are in bloom. Thank you.

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest