This is the story about a trip to California made by four Georgia Crackers. One was none other than Mr. John Illeges, donor of the Illges Medal, who resides at “Plumfield,” in one of those Ionic column mansions at Columbus. Two of the others, Mr. Dave Strother and Mr. Maxwell Murray, were from middle Georgia, Fort Valley, to be exact, where camellias grow at their best in the gardens of those two gentlemen. The fourth, the writer, hails from Grimball’s Point at the eastern end of the Isle of Hope, near Savannah on the eastern seaboard, where camellia plants and beautiful oaks occupy a prominent place in the landscape scheme.
With Mrs. Maxwell Murray as a gracious chaperone, Dave, Max, and I left Fort Valley on February 22 and drove to Opelika, Alabama, by way of Columbus, Georgia, where we picked up Mr. Illges. Leaving Mrs. Murray to visit with her son at Opelika, we boarded the Queen and Crescent destined for New Orleans. We arrived there on the last night of the famous Mardi Gras celebration, but unfortunately, were prevented by a driving rain from taking in the sights.
We arrived in Los Angeles on February 24, where two well-known camellia personalities Bill Woodroof and Frank Williams, met us at the station. After locating our reservations at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel, which was very hard to get at this time of year and only obtained through the influence of some of our camellia friends, we were then on our way receive or accept, whichever way you may term it, some California hospitality. The railroad journey made us thirsty, and a thirst quencher was most acceptable, after which we motored to one of those outstanding restaurants that all tourists are supposed to enjoy, where we had a wonderful diner. On our return to the hotel, although it was quite late, we still continued to talk camellias.
Friday morning Frank Williams came to the hotel and advised us that he had arranged through Mr. Howard Asper for a preview of the famous Pasadena Flower Show, which runs about ten days. We were conducted through the display by Mr. Asper himself, and we had the opportunity of seeing some of Southern California’s nicest floral decorations. After bidding Mr. Asper “Adieu,” we went to Huntington Gardens where we were honored by having Mr. William Hertrich, Curator Emeritus of the Gardens, take us on a personally conducted tour. Mr. Hertrich showed us not only the Gardens, where over 1,000 varieties of camellias are growing, but through the Library and Art Gallery as well. Incidentally, Huntington Gardens are one of the points of interest members of the American Camellia Society will be privileged to visit during the course of the Annual Meeting next February.
We had lunch with Mr. Hertrich at the Faculty Dining Room at California Institute of Technology and, of course, a further discussion of camellias. It is worth a trip to California just to listen to Mr. Hertrich’s story about what has been accomplished with respect to camellia plantings during the many years he was actively associated with the Huntington Gardens.
After lunch we were once again on our way, —this time to Nuccio’s Nurseries at Altadena. Mr. Julius Nuccio, one of the most affable gentlemen in the camellia industry, was more than willing to show us what he was doing with Camellia reticulata varieties.
Our next stop was at Coolidge’s Rare Plant Gardens at Pasadena. There we had an opportunity to talk to Harvey Short about the many new varieties he has developed. In our opinion, his ‘Frosty Morn’ is a real gem.
With Frank still at the wheel, we went to the McCaskill Gardens, operated by Billie and Vern McCaskill, which are also located near Pasadena. Their new seedling, ‘Billie McCaskill’ is going to be a “must” in every camellia collection whose owners appreciate a medium-sized bloomthat will stand out among the big ones. The flower is light pink, deeply fimbriated semi-double.
Our last stop that day was at the California Camellia Gardens in San Fernando, operated by Dave Cook and Ed Arensen. (Both of these gentlemen are greatly interested in the work being performed by All-American Camellia Selections, Inc.) There we were privileged to see an outstanding sport of Fred Sander that in all probability will attract considerable attention when it is placed on the market.
After leaving Dave and Ed, we returned to the hotel, enjoyed a delicious dinner, and went to bed, too tired to participate in another camellia “bull-session.”
Our original plan to hire a U-Drive-It car for our use while in California was never put into effect. Our gracious hosts furnished transportation at all times, even when a taxicab would have sufficed.
The next morning, Saturday, Frank Williams drove us along the Pacific Coast to Long Beach. We saw a forest of oil well derricks, enjoyed and a shore luncheon. We were late at arriving at our destination, —the camellia show sponsored by the San Diego Camellia Society at Balboa Park, San Diego. In spite of our tardiness, we were welcomed with outstretched arms by Dr. and Mrs. Tellum, Dr. and Mrs. Hubbs and many others whose names I cannot recall. The show was a beautiful one and many wonderful blooms were exhibited. The award for the best flower in the show went to a variegated ‘Reg Ragland’. One penalty we paid for our late arrival was to miss Mr. and Mrs. Roy Thompson who had to leave for Glendale before we reached San Diego.
After the show we headed for Mexico. We found accommodations at a very beautiful motel situated just one-tenth of a mile from the Border at San Ysidro. Needless to state, particularly in view of the fact that this was the first opportunity some of our party ever had to visit a foreign country, we did not spend much time at the Motel. We went to Tia Juana, Mexico, where we had dinner, with all the “trimmings,” at the Casino. After dinner we took in the Jai Alai games, which is one of the fastest sports we had ever seen. Then we took in some of the night life of the town. I cannot tell you—in print—everything we saw, except to say it was most interesting and a bit intriguing. (of course, we did not do anything that could not be given the widest publicity.) After paying (I think) for the tequila enjoyed by some of the serpentine body dancers who performed for our pleasure and enjoyment, we returned to our motor court for a greatly needed rest.
The next morning, with Frank Williams still at the wheel, we went off on an exploration trip into Mexico. A drive along a beautiful coastal road for 70 miles terminated at a lovely Mexican place of abode at Ensenada, called Bahai Motor Court, replete with a swimming pool. Like other better class towns, Ensenada provides excellent professional entertainment for visitors. Years ago it was a famous gambling resort. At one time, Jack Dempsey was the promoter of a casino conducted on the lines of Monte Carlo. The gambling spirit and love of entertainment continues to prevail, although the gambling places have been closed by order of the Mexican Government.
We took in a few of these places of entertainment. At one place, Dave Strother had his palm read and was rapidly becoming impressed with the palmist’s predictions until, after a close scrutiny of his long life line, she upset the apple cart by stating that his great grandchildren would probably have twins. John Illges was hesitant about holding out his hand, but finally capitulated to the appeal in the lady’s sparkling eyes. As might be expected, the lady stressed the fact that John was about to inherit a large sum of money. Each time John smiled at the sum mentioned, she increased the amount of wealth he was going to inherit. She certainly earned her pesos. The palm-reading session came to a sudden end when one of these gay, festive looking entertainers, mistaking the top of my head for a crystal ball, peered at it and stated, “Ah Senor, you no wear zee underwear”! That was too much for Max Murray, our dependable balance wheel, who exclaimed that he would rather spend his money for a diner for all of us than on a palm reader. That he did, and we ate hot tamales and chile con carne with all the trimmings at the Stoehadi.
On Monday, we enjoyed a leisurely trip back to Los Angeles, going by way of Riverside where we visited Old Mission Inn. This is another place that should be visited by members of the Society when they take in the Annual Meeting next year. From there we went on to visit Mrs. Elizabeth C. Councilman at Councilman Camellia Acres, El Monte, and saw her new white seedling, ‘Angel’.
The next day, Mr. Ralph S. Peer took us to lunch with Bill Woodroof at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles as the guests of Mr. Reg Ragland. Afterwards, Mr. Ragland took us to see his collection of camellias. All of the plants are growing in containers in three lath houses. Everything was immaculate, not even a single petal could be found under a plant. Most growers, like Mr. Ragland, keep their plantings in a clean, sanitary condition as a precaution against entry or spread of camellia petal blight.
After enjoying a long chat about camellias, Mr. and Mrs. Ragland took us on a 60-mile drive to Balboa Bay where we did justice to a real Pacific Coast seafood dinner at the Yacht Club. (As a result of my frequent references to food, the reader may no doubt be wondering whether we went to California to see camellias or to eat). After dinner, we attended the meeting of the Camellia Society of Orange County, where Mr. Peer was the speaker of the evening.
On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to rest at the hotel before Mr. and Mrs. Peer took us to the Beverly Hills Club for lunch, and to see the Hollywood Stars. The latter, in true Hollywood style, wore thin party dresses just a wee bit low in the front, and frankly, it was difficult to look those interesting celebrities straight in the eyes, and continue to talk camellias. In the afternoon, we visited the Peer collection of camellias and, late on drove to the home of Dr. and Mrs. Lloyd J. Taylor for a wonderful cocktail party. Here the camellias were so beautifully planted in the landscaping that most of the party was spent in the garden enjoying the quality of the blooms.
The evening was devoted to a meeting of the Pacific Coast Camellia Society in Glendale where we served on a panel discussion, with Frank Williams as Moderator. The greater part of the discussion dealt with the varietal bloom differences in plants grown in the South and West. In reply to an inquiry as to the best recent introduction in the South, we could think of none better than Mrs. D.W. Davis.
When you go to Los Angeles next year be sure to visit the Farmer’s Market, where you can buy almost any kind of fruit or vegetable or observe the choicest collection of California’s farm, orchard, and vineyard products. What a place to eat those things Frank suggested! After a short stay at the Market, we drove to Mr. Arthur Freed’s Orchid Farm about 50 miles beyond Los Angeles.
Friday, we were again the guests of Mr. Peer who took us to meet the officials of Huntington Gardens. We had lunch as guests of Dr. J.E. Pomfret, who is now in charge of the Huntington Estate. Later, we were joined by Mrs. Peer and we went to the Santa Anita race track where we occupied a box provided through the courtesy of Mr. Charles S. Jones, who at one time was associated with Descanso Gardens and Nurseries. The race course is well worth seeing—the landscaping is really marvelous, and with spaces fully a half acre in diameter, there were beautiful designs made of yellow and blue pansies. Even the hills surrounding the race course are magnificently landscaped, and many colored flowers were used to make the view from the grandstand one never to be forgotten. From the race course, Mr. and Mrs. Peer drove us back to the hotel.
Friday night, we enjoyed a steak barbeque with Mr. and Mrs. Frank Williams and their four wonderful children, all of whom pitched in to make the visit a most enjoyable one. The Williams home is most attractively located on the side of a hill which, together with the swimming pool, is surrounded with plantings of many fine varieties of camellias.
On Saturday, Mr. Peer took us to the camellia show at San Marino, sponsored by the Southern California Camellia Society. Mr. E.C. Tourje, Chairman of Judges, was good enough to appoint the four Georgia Crackers, as well as another visitor from the South, Mr. Aubrey C. Harris, Shreveport, Louisiana, as judges. I was especially fortunate in being asked to work with Mr. Tourje and Mr. Hertrich in judging their first show of C. reticulatas. At the show, we renewed acquaintance with many of the camellia personalities we had met at the ACS Annual Meeting in California in 1949, among them Mrs. Dr. McLean, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Thompson, Mrs. Tinkham, Mrs. Beebe, and scores of others that I wish my memory was good enough to enumerate.
After a short rest at the hotel, we went to a cocktail party at the Peer residence. Monique and Ralph really gave us a party that will ling long in the memories of all of us, and you will have to see this home to appreciate all that was done for our entertainment. It is built on the top of a hill, and the camellias are ranged in terraces, beautifully done under a most efficient gardener, who was there to tell us the many things that have been accomplished under most difficult conditions. The home which overlooks the countryside and the many entrancing lights of the city, is on three floors, on each of which something was served. We had to leave the delightful hospitality of the Peers to keep an appointment for dinner at Moulin Rouge. Mr. Peer left his guests to personally see that we were there on time, and left no stone unturned to see that our trip was perfect in every detail.
The Moulin Rouge is a huge place of entertainment with a capacity of 900 or more guest who enjoy the floor show while dinner is being served. The piece de resistance, in so far as entertainment was concerned, was for the benefit of John Illges. It consisted of a large champagne glass that was slowly lowered from the ceiling, in which was seated a lovely young lady dressed in pink tights. The reference, of course, was to John’s seedling, ‘Pink Champagne’.
Frank was on time Sunday morning when we started on a long motor trip to see the big trees in Sequoia Park, and then on to Yosemite where the ground was covered with snow. Lunch at Kewahne Lodge high in the mountains is another “must” on the itinerary of visitors to the Annual Meeting next year. After lunch, we drove to Bakersfield and took in the camellia show staged by the Camellia Society of Kern County, at which the Best Flower of the Show was a ‘Te Deum’. That night, we stayed at Fresno.
Before leaving Fresno on Monday, we called on Mr. Milo Rowell, Jr., and looked at his collection of camellia plants. Afterwards, we drove through the lovely Yosemite Valley to Modesto, where we spent the night.
The next morning, we drove to Hayward and had a nice visit with Mr. Toichi Domoto who showed us his camellia, ‘Shiro-chan’, and then on to Lafayette to visit Mr. D.L. Feathers and his excellent collection. This garden, like that of Dr. Lloyd J. Taylor, is one of the comparatively few gardens in California where camellia plants are used in the landscape scheme.
On Wednesday, Mr. Feathers took us to see Mr. Harold Paige who also resides in Lafayette. Growing camellias in containers is Mr. Paige’s specialty. It is surprising to see bushes growing in containers that look as good as his, or that bear such beautiful flowers.
Our next stop was at the nursery of Mr. Vernon James near San Jose, and you should watch this gentleman’s hybridized production of a cross between C. cuspidata and C. japonica. Here, together with about a dozen other enthusiasts, we were entertained at a luncheon. From there, we went to see the collection of Mr. C. Breschini, and then on to San Francisco to inquire about railway tickets for the trip home. That night, Mr. and Mrs. Feathers, assisted by Mr. and Mrs. Paige, had a steak dinner for us and a few others. On the front porch of the Feathers’ home was an 8-foot ‘Captain Rawes’ reticulata in full bloom. Not a single flower was less than five inches in diameter!
Unfortunately, our time was limited, because preparations had been made to entertain us in Northern California and even over in Sacramento. It was difficult to get Pullman reservations, and there was no way in which we could linger longer, as much as we would like to have done so.
On Thursday morning, both Mr. Feathers and Mr. Williams took us to the train at Oakland, and here is where we regretted to have to tell both of them “Goodbye.” We thanked them for the most enjoyable trip we have ever had, anywhere, anytime since playing with camellias, and thought of Frank having to drive alone all the way back to his home in Beverly Hills.
From Oakland to Chicago we had a lovely trip on the Vista Dome California Zephyr, and Saturday evening all of us were back home on Georgia Soil.
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.