Saturday, April 4, 2015

Skip Madsen, A Man with a Passion for Growing Camellias

Robert "Skip" Madsen is the 96 year old Camellia expert from South Carolina.
He has lived on a eighty acre family farm, on John's Island,  which has been in the family for generations.  He told me that his grandparents and parents ran the property as a chicken farm.   He and his wife transformed it into the Camellia heaven that it is today.
Originally, Skip planted baby Camellias directly into the soil, on his land in straight rows.  When a customer bought a plant they would dig it out, wrap it in burlap and send it on its way.  It was a considerable amount of work. This particular Camellia is growing in the soil near Skip's house.
 Mr. Madsen has a succession of greenhouses that focus on the different stages of Camellia propagation.  The first greenhouse has flats with course sand, with just stems used as rooting material for starting the process of grafting. Then in another greenhouse he has plants that are one year old, then another greenhouse shelters the two year old plants.  Eventually they are taken out into the garden and lined up neatly to grow some more.  In the old days they were transplanted directly into the farm's soil.

When plastic pots began to be used in nurseries, the young Camellias were transplanted from the potting greenhouses into pots.
Still in neat rows.

Of course there are many, many Azaleas growing in the garden, retaining their untrimmed  graceful natural shapes.

 Skip's operation has been expanded by his son, Pete, and two greenhouse  workers, to include a huge catalog of Herbs, and other plants.
 This is a plant bench that is warmed by water,
 from a huge warm water tank.  The seedlings are growing nicely there.
 This is a very cool machine that packs the plastic seedling boxes with growing medium.
 The paddles just tap the medium into the containers.
 producing very neat boxes for transplants.
 Two ladies very expertly complete the process of starting seedling plugs.
This takes a great deal of patience.
On of the things that I liked about Skip's  greenhouses were the plants that have volunteered on the earthen floor.  The ferns were amazing.
There were plants in pots of all varieties.
This was a kumquat tree that was growing delicately, and Skip told me to try it rind and all.  It was the sweetest thing ever.
Another dwarf tree growing next to Skip's house was a Southern Magnolia.
 To celebrate Skip's 96th birthday, we all went to the Magnolia Plantation & Garden, on the Ashley River., in Charleston, SC.
 The plantation is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is nearly, 500 acres, and continues as  the ancestral home of the Drayton family since 1676.
 He was presented with a plaque  from the Coastal Carolina Camellia Society for his outstanding work in the breeding and promoting the growth and love of Camellias.
 Skip supplies the society growers with stock root plant material which they use to propagate and perpetuate varieties of Camellias.  He has given garden space with root material planted in the farm's soil, to whitch cuttings are grafted, for future transplanting.

 Live Oak Trees on the Magnolia Plantation.
Spanish Moss hanging from the Live Oak Trees.
Camellias and Spanish Moss arranged on the party tables.
Many of the Camellias in the Plantation's gardens were started from plant materials supplied by Skip.
How lucky was I that I got to tag along on the back of the Plantation's golf cart and get a cook's tour of the gardens which was Skip's birthday present from the  society.  This is a wild Azalea.
Here's the one thing that I learned from spending time with Skip Madsen and his Camellia society friends.  They love to talk to you about their plants and show you their love for these amazing flowering shrubs and trees.
Take a trip to Charleston, South Carolina and meet and speak with Skip Madsen, the world's best and most passionate Camellia grower.  He is truly a national living treasure.


lisa lewicki hermanson said...

HI Lori, I visited the Planting Fields Camellia House a few weeks ago at the height of it's glory - how interesting to hear about a place where these beautiful flowering trees originate from -

Liz Goodman said...

My husband and I had the unexpected genuine pleasure of spending a day with Skip this past week. We had purchased one of his camellias at the Holiday Market downtown Charleston, and we got one of the business cards from the herb growers. We decided to go check the area out and he was the only person there. He took us on a wonderful walking tour of his property, and he showed us his many beautiful camellias. What we thought would be a visit to a nursery was a visit to a historic site with a family member as the guide! He was astonishing and amazing and a fountain of wisdom and experience. The beautiful creek and marsh behind his house, the live oaks, the azaleas, tall pines, camellias and sasanquas were truly an experience we will never forget--truly a hidden gem! Meeting Skip Madsen was such an unexpected pleasure and someone we shall never forget.