“Coco” Chanel and a British lover… 

Being warned by several weather apps on my phone that an arctic blast from the frozen north was barreling down on my unsuspecting garden, I faithfully got out this week and started covering the cold-sensitive plants. In preparing my garden I found a beautiful bloom hiding itself deep in the luscious green foliage of a camellia. 

I was not fearful about the camellia’s ability to endure the coming cold snap. But I was thunderstruck by the horticultural marvel that had come to perfection during these last few, balmy days. The camellia “White by the Gate” had shyly produced a breathtaking bloom, seemingly unconcerned whether or not a human being would ever notice. As I was rummaging around in my garden, readying bedding plants that were growing underneath the camellia, I froze in amazement (in advance of the cold snap). 

The bloom of “White by the Gate” is famous in the American South and to have one bloom in your garden is one of the privileges of being a Southern gardener. To look on the bloom is to see pure, unmixed, unadulterated elegance. 

Looking at the bloom of this camellia, I am always reminded of the famous French fashion house CHANEL. The story that I have not gone to the scholarly trouble of verification goes something like this…

In her early years, Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel had a British lover who constantly sought her affections. The fellow was a wealthy aristocrat with a marvelous name— Captain Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel. He and Chanel lived together in a life of dreamlike ease at fashionable resorts across Europe. It is said that Capel was the one who presented Chanel with the bloom of a white camellia that would become a symbol of her future fashion house. 

You may ask me how I know all this. Well, I (secretly and guiltily) read Vogue magazines when I’m in doctors’ offices and when I’m in airports. And gardeners, themselves, love all stories connected with flowers. 

Back to my camellia bush “White by the Gate”… Without any doubt I can tell you “White by the Gate” was not the bloom that Capel presented to his lover, for “White by the Gate” was not hybridized and introduced into commerce until 1956 by Hyman’s Nursery of Lafayette, Louisiana.

“White by the Gate” is merely one among many cultivars of white camellias. We grow “White by the Gate” here in the American South because of its horticultural suitability to our growing region. But the bloom is perfect, just like the iconic camellia of the House of CHANEL.  

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