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Winter Splendor

Large camellias, many over a century old, are grown against the heat-retaining brick wall of the c.1820 greenhouse.

Camellias at the Lyman Estate, The Vale, Waltham, Massachusetts

The greenhouses at the Lyman Estate located at 185 Lyman St., Waltham, Massachusetts, are open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 am to 4 pm, year round. For additional information, please call (781) 891-4882, ext. 244.

There is no more beautiful sight around Boston than that of The Vale camellias in the splendor of their greenhouse on a snowy day in early February. The large specimens of Camellia japonica, some over a hundred years old and as tall as fifteen feet, are descendants of plants propagated and grown in pots in the nursery gardens of the seaport towns of China and Japan. European traders introduced these exotic plants to Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, and England. In the eighteenth century, a lively competition in growing camellias developed among the aristocracy.

Camellias were introduced to America in the late eighteenth century by André Michaux, a French explorer and botanist, who brought four shrubs of Camellia japonica to the South Carolina plantation Middleton Place. The first record of camellias in Boston dates from 1806, when Joseph Barrell, owner of an estate in Charlestown, Massachusetts, was given a Camellia alba plena. About the same time, Boston merchant Theodore Lyman added the camellia house to his complex of greenhouses at The Vale in Waltham, Massachusetts. Lyman participated fully in the excitement surrounding camellia culture in Boston and was a member of the group of Boston gentlemen who formed the Camellia Society under the auspices of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Boston seedsman and nurseryman C.M. Hovey did much to advance camellias through his Magazine of Horticulture, which he published from 1834 to 1868.

The camellias at The Vale come into peak bloom between February and early March. The greenhouses also have smaller camellias, both japonica and sasanqua, available for sale. If you have a cool greenhouse or an enclosed porch, you may be able to provide the relatively high humidity and cool temperatures that camellias require and be able to grow your own exquisite blooms for winter delight.

—Diane McGuire
Director of Landscape Preservation

Winter Splendor