Some of you may be familiar with the camellia variety known as ‘Frankie Winn’ or the variegated version called ‘Frankie Winn Variegated’. Both are excellent Japonica cultivars that well suited for garden plants as well as for exhibition blooms. Many individual camellia varieties like these grow in our gardens, but there is more to these varieties besides beautiful blooms and charming plants. There is a story behind every flower, and this is the story of Frankie Winn.
Frankie Huff Winn was the oldest of four sisters from Savannah, Georgia. Born in 1913, Frankie was one of those children that excelled in just about everything that she did. She began piano lessons when she was only four years old, and went on to become an accomplished pianist. Her sister – Cilie Sutton remembers Frankie as being one of the most outgoing persons that you would ever meet. When Frankie Winn walked into a room, it was time for the party to begin. She was the kind of person that liked everyone, and everyone adored her as well. Cilie was 12 years younger that Frankie, but remembers how her older sister used to take her along with her when she went out with friends. As Cilie looks back, she noted how unusual it was for Frankie to always make time for her three younger siblings.
Although quite talented in many areas, Frankie had her sights set on a career as an educator, and not surprisingly, she became an outstanding teacher and principle. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a Master’s Degree in education, Frankie came home to Savannah and began her teaching career at Waters Avenue School, which is known as Romana Riley School today. Cilie remembers having her older sister for her teacher during the 3rd and 4th grade. Frankie took her career seriously, and was most happy when she was in the classroom.
In 1938, she married Wallace Winn who was also an educator. Wally and Frankie were about as different as day and night, and their marriage exemplified the old adage that opposites attract. Frankie was the outgoing person that loved to go to parties and mingle with friends. On the other hand, Wally was quite contented to stay at home and work on his various projects. Frankie used to say that she lived in a ‘sawdust house’ because Wally was always building something. It was at there home in Savannah, that Wally developed an interest in camellias that soon became an obsession. Frankie used to let Wally grow the camellias, and she would take care of displaying them. Cilie says that her sister would always have a camellia bloom pinned on her wherever she went. Frankie always loved to take camellia blossoms to school for her students and fellow teachers to enjoy.
Cilie remembers her sister as someone that enjoyed life. She liked to travel, loved to cook, and enjoyed playing the piano for First Baptist Church every Sunday. She was an excellent seamstress, and was always involved with putting on plays at school. The one thing that Frankie Winn was really passionate about was teaching. She retired in 1970, but only enjoyed just a few years of retirement before her death in 1973.
Wallace continued to grow camellias after Frankie’s death. In 1978, Mr. And Mrs. Jimmy Luker of Savannah named a camellia cultivar in honor of Frankie Winn. The Lukers owned Sugar Hill Nursery, and they decided to name one of their seedlings for Frankie. A few years later, Bill Sutton who was Frankie’s brother in law, developed a variegated version of ‘Frankie Winn’. This variegated form was registered in 2000, and is pictured on the inside cover of this digest. Later in his life, Wally came up with another idea to honor his late wife. He was always involved with collecting various things from coins to empty Jim Beam bottles. One of his most priced collections was that of Boehm Porcelain. At some point, Wally decided to have the Boehm Company make a porcelain replica of the ‘Frankie Winn’ camellia. There were many roadblocks to making this dream a reality, but with much perseverance, Wally eventually accomplished his goal. A few years later, Boehm also manufactured some of the porcelain ‘Frankie Winn Variegated’ camellias. This was Wally’s way of immortalizing his beloved wife. Before his death, Wallace donated most of his unique Boehm Porcelain collection to the American Camellia Society.
Every flower has a story, and it is a story that makes the flower even more special. Frankie Winn was a special lady that is remembered by some and appreciated by even those that never knew her. She will always be known by the flower that bears her name. The next time that you see a flower of ‘Frankie Winn’ or ‘Frankie Winn Variegated’, think of the enthusiastic school teacher from Savannah that loved life and was loved by all that knew her
Gene Phillips is one of the owners of Gene’s Nursery in Savannah, Ga. He is a 2nd generation grower and attributes his love of Camellias to his father, who inspired him to breath in the beauty that they bring to him but more importantly to others. In his ‘free’ time, you’ll find him wandering through old gardens, trying to identify flowers or taking countless number of photos to share with others! He also enjoys meeting people and comparing ‘garden’ stories.