When I was growing up in Savannah, my daddy had many camellia friends that became like family to me. Probably, the one that I remember and treasure the most was Ray Bailey. He was my daddy’s best friend, and he was the best uncle that any kid could have ever had.
Ray was born and raised up in the mountains of North Carolina, but when he moved to Savannah years later and discovered camellias, he and my daddy became like brothers. Daddy was a disabled veteran, and he had to make many trips back and forth to veteran hospitals in the area. Daddy would always take a Greyhound Bus on these hospital trips, and Ray always took him the bus station and was there to pick him up when he retruned. It did not matter is his bus came in late at night, Ray Bailey was always there for my daddy.
Daddy died when I was fifteen years old, and Ray made it his business to be there for me as well. The winter after daddy passed away, Ray told me that he thought I should begin grafting camellias just like daddy. Ray taught me how to graft and came over every weekend to help me check on the grafts. It did not matter what needed to be done, I always knew that I could count on Ray to help me take care of the project.
It has been many years now since Ray passed away, but I still think about him all the time. He was a great camellia grower, and he was an even better uncle. What a lucky kid I was to have a man named Ray looking out for me!
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.