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Posted: February 9, 2011 12:00 a.m.

One Tank Trip: Massee Lane Gardens

February is the shining time for camellias and for Massee Lane Gardens at Fort Valley. Home to the American Camellia Society headquarters, Massee Lane Gardens, which has more than 3,000 varieties of camellias, holds a Camellia Festival annually.

This year’s events include a book signing by the University of Georgia’s former football coach Vince Dooley, a painting class, and the Middle Georgia Camellia Show.

There is much to see here, from the old camellia trees, the millstones and concrete road markers placed there by David C. Strother, the man who donated his gardens to the American Camellia Society in 1968, to a large landscaped greenhouse, a Japanese Garden, an environmental garden and one of the largest collections of Boehm porcelain in the nation. Brick walkways guide you through the camellia gardens and then onward to the Abendroth Japanese Garden, where an authentic tea house overlooks the quiet pond where Koi fish swim slowly at your feet. You can also enjoy the Avera-Peterson Children’s Garden and the Scheibert Rose Garden. You can see wildlife while sitting in the Helen Teeter Garden or stroll around the lake and rest on the deck of the Dr. Dan and Muriel Nathan pavilion which overlooks the Brown & Hall Environmental Gardens.

The Annabelle Lundy Fetterman building houses an auditorium, the gift shop and a large gallery. The gallery has the Boehm porcelain collection and work by Cybis, Connoisseur, Bronn and others. The gift shop offers perfect gifts for gardeners and those who have a love for elegant decorative items.

It is at the gift shop that copies of Coach Vince Dooley’s new book, Vince Dooley’s Garden The Horticultural Journey of a Football Coach, is now available are for sale and where the coach himself will autograph copies on Saturday, Feb. 26, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 12, a painting class will be offered, featuring artist and teacher Shirley Rainwater of Lizella. She will show you how to paint a camellia using the one-stroke method. The cost is $35 for participants. "That includes everything — your brush, your paint, your canvas," said said Leisa Dortch, gift shop manager and events coordinator at Massee Lane Gardens.

The class will be from 10 a.m. to noon. Call the gardens to sign up and you can pay the fee when you arrive.

Rainwater, 56, received her Level 2 Certification as an instructor from Dewberry University in Orlando, Fla. She was taught by Donna Dewberry, who invented the one-stroke technique. Rainwater has her own company, Art From the Heart, and teaches classes regularly at the Wellness Center in Macon, several retirement communities, and for special needs children at ARC in Macon. "A lot of people who have had strokes, or have had difficulties doing other hobbies, can do this one-stroke technique," she said.

She also teaches the technique at arts and crafts shows, like the Mistletoe Show in November in Perry and the Master Gardener Arts and Crafts Show in April in Perry.

"If you’ve never painted before, it’s fine to come to this one-stroke class. Even if you think you can’t paint, I encourage you to come. Five years ago, I couldn’t paint anything," she said in an interview.

She had owned a franchise for 23 years, sold it, and decided to take up painting because "I wanted to do something the latter part of my life I had never done before. I had never painted before. With one stroke — shading and blending all in one stroke — I was able to become a painter."

The last Saturday and Sunday in February, Feb. 26 and Feb. 27, are for flower lovers and those who enjoy beauty. The Middle Georgia Camellia Society will hold its annual Camellia Show, which is open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Anyone can enter a bloom in the show; bring your bloom to Massee Lane Gardens by 8 a.m. so that it can be prepared for the show. There will be plenty of people to assist you.

The final event in the Camellia Festival occurs on Saturday, March 5, when the annual Fashion Show and Luncheon is held. The cost is $25 per person and the event starts at 11 a.m.

The fashion show is conducted by Noell’s of Thomaston, which is owned by Ellene Cook, whose 50 years of experience in the fashion business gives her and her staff first hand knowledge in knowing how to help you shop for your special needs.

Reservations are required. Catering is by Michelle Allen of Marshallville, and her specialty is that all food is homemade. Door prizes will be given. "The fashion show and luncheon have been the highlight of the camellia season for years. Everyone always takes home a prize," Dortch said.

The garden is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

The gardens are located on Ga. Highway 49 between Fort Valley and Marshallville. Take Exit 149 from I-75 at Byron and travel south on Georgia Highway 49 or leave I-75 at Exit 135 in Perry and take Ga. Highway 127 to Marshallville. From Marshallville, take Ga. Highway 49 north three miles to the gardens, five miles south of Fort Valley.

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