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Left: Rayleen Lawshe serves refreshments, with prints by Lila Keen, Lady of the Camellias, behind her. Right: Savannah Rogers and Abbie Buford pump water at Semmes Heritage Day. They’ll be on hand at Saturday’s Camellia Festival to answer questions about Semmes history, heritage and culture.


The 2019 Semmes Camellia Festival, sponsored by Semmes Heritage Park, is Saturday, Feb. 2, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Semmes First Baptist Church, 4070 Wulff Road. The festival, a sanctioned AL200 Bicentennial event, also includes an open house at Semmes Heritage Park & Museum, 3871 Wulff Road.

The Camellia Festival, a popular event in Semmes until about 60 years ago, was revived in 2013 and has again become the perfect way to showcase the town as “the nursery capital of the world.”

Visitors can expect to experience beauty everywhere: there will be dozens of live blooms and camellias in tablescapes, in art and collections, camellia plants for sale and, most charmingly, in the Camellia Maids, who wear old-fashioned gowns and welcome everyone with a smile.

Tablescapes are among the most eye-catching aspects of the festival. As defined in online dictionaries, a tablescape is “an artistic arrangement of articles on a table.” But Semmes residents take ‘scapes far beyond a Pinterest setting. Every year, talented exhibitors find unique ways to incorporate camellias in displays that tell a life story, recall a special event, capture a time or place, show a treasured collection or pay homage to the past.

For example, the 2018 winning tablescape was that of Semmes Fire Chief Kevin Brooks and his wife, Donna, depicting “The Life of a Fireman.” The display juxtaposes a beautiful table, obviously set for a family dinner, against items that are familiar to firefighters when they react to an emergency — bright yellow “Do Not Cross” tape, hard hats and, to the left, a framed copy of the “Firefighter’s Prayer.”

Another shows Carolyn Owens, a member of Semmes Heritage Park, displaying antique teddy bears and a Raggedy Ann to highlight the value of preserving the historic 1902 Semmes School (the focal point of Semmes Heritage Park).

The Camellia Festival presents several special collections. Carol Jarvis’ china plates, for instance, show camellias painted by artist Nicholas Liex and given by Villeroy & Boch to distribute as “thank-you’s” to such department stores as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. Another display consists of several prints of art by Lila Moore Keen, Lady of the Camellias. The prints belonged to the late Lib Dodd and will be shown by her daughter, Alice Dodd Baker.

Other activities include a presentation by Seth Allen, horticultural director and curator of collections at Mobile Botanical Gardens, and an exhibit and video concerning the propagation and growth of camellias.

Also showcased will be the 2019 Semmes Camellia Maids — Jordan Adams, Anna Smith, Jocelyn Thigpen, Lacey Moore, Macie Buford, Blaikney Waldrop, Abbie Buford, Amy Milam, Abby Pratt and Kaylee Vigor. The Maids represent the community as goodwill ambassadors for Semmes’ rich history, heritage and culture.

But with all the pomp and circumstance, it is the camellia, Alabama’s state flower, that takes center stage in the fellowship hall of Semmes First Baptist Church. It’s seen on long tables full of individual blooms, in the works of local artists, in the Semmes history display.

Those attending the festival might also visit the open house at Semmes Heritage Park. There, in the historic Semmes Schoolhouse, in Malone Chapel and in the log cabin, visitors can see what life was like at the turn of the century. The park will also pay tribute to the camellia through exhibits and activities.

Semmes Camellia Festival is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, call Alice Dodd Baker at 251-645-3280.