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On Gardening: Frank Houser camellia blossoms are enormous, offer rare beauty and a glimpse into a hero

Feb. 18, 2019

Frank Houser is a Camellia reticulata hybrid producing enormous blossoms.

It is highly likely that as camellia shows occur throughout the country, the Frank Houser and Variegated Frank Houser will be the ones getting the wows. I would be so bold as to say look for some of them around the winner’s table.

It seems that for one reason or another the camellia industry has been associated with heroes and those with a dedication to service, such is the case of Frank Houser and his friend and renowned camellia breeder Dr. Walter E. Homeyer. Dr. Frank Houser was a WWII hero. During his 2 1/2 years in service overseas, he commanded the Third Army Hospital in Paris. During the Battle of the Bulge, he worked behind the lines treating massive casualties and also commanded hospital trains ferrying the wounded from D-Day invasion back to Paris.

After the war, Houser returned to Macon, Ga., and began a 65-year career in medicine. He became one of the first doctors to experiment safely with penicillin. He was ‘Man of the Year’ in Bibb County, and ‘General Practitioner of the Year’ by the Medical Association of Georgia. The camellia world, however, is indebted to him for being a camellia lover and hybridizer himself.

The Frank Houser camellia, however, was hybridized by his neighbor, friend, and Doctor, too, Dr. Walter E. Homeyer of Macon, Ga. Frank Houser is a cross between Camellia japonica ‘Steve Blount,’ and camellia reticulata, Buddha. The blooms are magnificently large. It and the variegated Frank Houser have been frequent winners in competition and offer that wow factor in the landscape.

Frank Houser is recommended for zones 8-10 and thus cold hardy to 10 degrees. Like all other camellias, they require acidic soil and perform best in woodland landscapes with high filtered light. Early spring represents the best months for planting woody shrubs and trees and by all means camellias like Frank Houser. By planting in early spring, we open the door for good root growth prior to summer’s heat.

One thing I try to stress in my seminars is to put not only camellias but all shrubs in a bed. We must prepare a bed for the life of our shrubs. It only makes sense that if we are going to make an investment in the landscape, we need to do it right. It is so sad to see a fine camellia, like Frank Houser, placed in a location where it will be surrounded by turf.

Frank Houser would also make an excellent container plant that could be moved to allow for cold winter protection in colder zones. The American Camellia Society has great tips for growing camellias in containers. While on their website, check out dates and locations for camellia shows near you. You’ll gain a wealth of knowledge visiting with local camellia lovers. Garden centers will have fresh stock and certified nurseryman available to assist you this spring in picking out the camellias of your dreams.

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services