Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Rare and Beautiful Camellia from a Summit Mansion

Dare I say it?  People from the Piney Woods love their Camellias much more than they love their Magnolias.  This love affair is as much a part of being from the Souf as going barefoot in the summertime and eating boiled peanuts.

This wonderful story of how the Leta Rembert (Covington) Camellia came to be and photos are courtesy of my childhood friend, Leta Batson Branch ...  UPDATE: The flower was named for Leta's mother's grandmother. (Seems there are quite a few Leta Remberts in that family tree!)

The article below is believed to have been clipped from the Summit Sun, date unknown:
A watercolor of the rare camellia named in honor of Mrs. Covington
"History of Rare and Lovely Camellia Which Attracted Attention At Men’s Show Told:  Exhibited By Mrs. Kenna
At the Men’s Camellia Club show held recently in McComb, a camellia blossom placed on exhibition by Mrs.  Jerry Kenna.  Summit caused much comment and many inquiries as to its origin by collectors throughout the Deep South. 
The request was made by Dr. Guy W. Bethea, a member of the board of directors of the American Camellia Society, to investigate the origin and location of this variety of camellia and to make it known through this newspaper. 
The plant was brought to Summit before the Civil War and planted at what was then known as “the Harold Home” sold to Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Covington in 1896.

The original home was destroyed by fire in 1915, and the plant suffered badly from heat and approximately half of the plant was lost. 
The home was rebuilt the same year, and the plant was relieved of its dead and damaged branches and moved from the front yard to its present location at the rear of the home.  The plant appears to have fully recovered and has many blossoms of fine texture each season, usually five to six inches in diameter, “double vivid scarlet” in color with stamens intermixed with petals and a few petiloids, or so-called “rabbit ears.” 
A few plants were propagated by a nurserywoman, Mrs. Rushing, at Magnolia, approximately 15 years ago, and she assigned it the name “Leta Rembert” in honor of Mrs. Covington.  No doubt it does have a varietial name somewhere in European literature.  A bloom of this variety was placed on exhibition by Otis Cotton, of McComb, at Hattiesburg, on Jan. 14, and another in Hammond, La on Jan. 15, however, these two blooms were not as large as representative blooms but the color and formation were correct."
Hill Top, a landmark home overlooking Highway 51, in the town of Summit, circa 1940.  Photos and newspaper article courtesy of Leta Batson Branch

Hill Top is still lovingly owned by members of the Covington family.

Best of all, the Hill Top horticultural legacy and its familial namesakes live on ...
"The flowers were brought to my mother's (Leta Rembert Covington Batson) 85th birthday party from my first cousins, who still own the house," -- Leta Batson Branch.

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