“Largest Collection of Ancient Camellias in North America”
Speaker: Tom Johnson
Director of Gardens, Magnolia Plantation
Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, Magnolia Plantation has survived the centuries and witnessed the history of our nation unfold before it from the American Revolution through the Civil War and beyond. It is the oldest public gardens in America, opening its doors to visitors in 1870 to view the thousands of beautiful flowers and plants in its famous gardens. Located in Charleston, South Carolina, they have the largest and most important collection of ancient camellias in the country. The azalea collection is unequaled anywhere. Magnolia Plantation is one of the last large-scale Romantic Gardens left in the United States. Unlike most of America's gardens, which are formal and seek to control nature, Magnolia cooperates with nature to create a tranquil landscape where humanity and nature are in harmony.
After Agricultural College in his home state of Georgia, Tom went to work for a large Atlanta landscape company and was put in charge of landscaping President Carter's Presidential Library. He recalls, "I would be out there clearing kudzu, and the President would visit with me." Before long, Johnson became the library's chief horticulturist where he remained for 15 years.
While managing the American Camellia Society's Massee Lane Gardens, Tom became an advocate for what he calls romantic garden design. In 2007 he was recruited to Magnolia Plantation to restore the gardens in that romantic style. They wanted to assemble the largest collection of ancient (existing prior to 1900) and historic (originating from 1900 to 1960) camellias in North America on Magnolia's 500 acres. Even with camellias in place since 1840, Johnson knew this would be no small task!