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‘The Camellia Man’ to Lecture at the AMA

The Event is a Joint Venture of the Friends of the AMA and Sowega Master Gardeners

Tom Johnson, a horticulturist whose wit, Southern charm, and expertise on camellias have made him one of the most sought-after speakers in the South, will lecture on camellias and romantic gardening on Tuesday, Oct 10. Hosted by the Sowega Master Gardeners and the Friends of the AMA, the program is at 6 pm at the Albany Museum of Art, 311 Meadowlark Drive.

“It’s really a public service to the community,” said Kirk Rouse of the Friends of the AMA. “Tom, who is known as “The Camellia Man,” is a world-renowned camellia expert. It’ll be an opportunity to meet him and hear him talk about camellias.” Depending on the variety, camellias bloom from fall to spring, bringing vibrant color to landscapes during what can be a dreary, cold season.

Rouse said Johnson will speak about romantic gardening at the lecture. Johnson, who was featured in Southern Living Magazine in late 2022, is an advocate of romantic garden design, which he says cooperates with nature rather than control it the way formal gardens do. The cost to attend the lecture at the AMA is $10 per person, payable by cash or check at the event.

Before the lecture, Johnson will meet with members of the Sowega Master Gardeners at The Garden Center at Historic Rawson Circle, 808 Fifth Ave., where he will inspect the camellias at Tip’s Garden and make recommendations to the organization.

Johnson, who recently retired, was executive director at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, S.C., recognized as one of seven Gardens of Excellence by the International Camellia Society. At Magnolia, his responsibilities included the restoration of America’s oldest romantic-style garden. Johnson was charged with returning Magnolia to the vision the Rev. John Grimké Drayton had when he designed the gardens for his homesick bride in the mid-1800s. This project launched Johnson on a worldwide search for azalea and camellia varieties that predate the 1900s. It also spurred him to share his gardening expertise with colleagues in Belgium, France, Barbados, and Cuba.

Before taking the position with Magnolia in 2007, he managed the American Camellia Society’s Massee Lane Gardens in his hometown of Perry for eight years after serving a decade at the Carter Center, where he helped oversee the development of the center’s gardens and apprenticed five years under the world-renowned Japanese architect Kinsako Nakane. Johnson’s penchant for sharing horticulture with his professional colleagues and friends has taken him to Europe and the Caribbean.

That was quite a career path for Johnson, who showed a flair for plants in high school when, as a member of Future Farmers of America, he oversaw the redesign of downtown Perry in a landscaping project that won the city a national award. At 16, he went to work for a local garden center and landscaping company. After high school, he attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, where he majored in plant propagation.
Since retiring, Johnson has returned to his first love—seeds. He grows pollinator-friendly perennials, native plants, and vegetables. He is a board member of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail.

Those who want to take some examples of Johnson’s expertise home with them after the lecture can preorder plants from Growing Old, which is owned by Johnson and his wife, Mary Ann Johnson. One-gallon plants are $15 each, and choices include Rhododendron austrinum, Rhododendron canescens, Oconee flammeum, Callendulaceum flame, Serrelatum, Magenta rose, Prunifolia, My Mary, and Razzberry. Three-gallon (4-5 foot tall) plants are $28 each, with choices including Morning Glow and Sasanqua Leslie Ann.

The plants may be ordered HERE. An invoice confirming the order will be emailed back, and payment is to be made when picking up the plants after the lecture on Oct 10. No pickups will be available during the event, which starts at 6 pm and is expected to last at least one hour.

Rouse said the evening lecture is the first joint venture of the Friends of the AMA and the Sowega Master Gardeners. It also will promote a Friends of the AMA event set for early 2024.

“It’s setting the stage for our Friends workshop and tour in February,” Rouse said. “The Friends of the Museum will be having a Camellia Day. After we tour the camellia beds at The Garden Center at the lime sink (Hilsman Park), we’ll have a workshop that will include lectures on types of camellias and how to wax camellias. And we’ll have a box lunch. Then, we’ll take a walking tour of a couple of gardens in the Rawson Circle area.”

Details on the February 2024 Camellia Day will be released later.

The Friends of the AMA is an organization formed in 2020 that is active in fundraising, advocacy, and other means of supporting the Albany Museum of Art and the work it does in the community. In addition to events, the group annually recognizes individuals who have contributed to the success of the museum through its AMA Treasures series, which includes a tribute video.

Sowega Master Gardeners, affiliated with the University of Georgia Extension Service in Dougherty County, are part of the Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program that connects UGA Extension, plant enthusiasts, and communities across the state. Master Gardeners share UGA Extension consumer horticulture programming about the selection and care of plants for ornamental value, recreation, and home food production. They also teach community members how to use plants and gardening to improve their environment, personal health, and quality of life. More than 10,000 men and women have been trained and certified in Georgia since 1979, when the program was initiated in the State.




The Albany Museum of Art is located at 311 Meadowlark Drive in Albany, Ga., adjacent to Albany State University West Campus just off Gillionville Road. The museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The Albany Museum of Art is open to the public 10 am-5 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free.

For more information about the AMA please visit our website,, or call 229.439.8400. Be sure to follow the the Albany Museum of Art on Twitter, Instagram, and  Facebook.

Tom Johnson is shown with trees in the background
Tom Johnson is known as "The Camellia Man" because of his expertise about the flowering shrub. (Photo courtesy of Tom Johnson)