Courtesy of Kari Cribb
Even though winters are about as mild as they come in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, I've always dreaded the season, with its gray skies and bare branches and noncommittal attitude towards the weather (frost on the ground one morning, 70 degrees the next). But there is one redeeming quality of winter that keeps me from praying away its existence altogether: It's camellia season. Their waxy emerald leaves and ruffled petals in creamy whites and brilliant pinks are welcome signs of life in an otherwise Melba-toast landscape, a promise that spring and its razzle-dazzle colors will come back soon, if we're just a little patient.
My dad planted the camellia bushes in our backyard some twenty years ago, grafting them from the garden of sweet Mrs. Edith, our former neighbor who had a knack for growing green things that I've not witnessed since. And every year, when the camellia blooms make their appearance, so too does the crystal bowl that normally lives in our dining room hutch.
It's a shallow bowl with a wide lip, and while in theory it can be used to serve salads or sides, we've only ever used it for floating camellias in an inch or two of water, a homegrown take on Monet's water lilies that bursts with color. It sits on the kitchen counter or the dining room table all season, filled with a rotating cast of flowers until the last blossom finally browns.
Because one was such a consistent part of my own childhood, I assumed "camellia bowls" were a thing everywhere, at least in the South. But when I started Googling to determine its origins, the Camellia Bowl that kept popping up was the college football showdown that takes place in Montgomery, Alabama, each year.
Beyond that, all I found was the listing for a Charleston Camellia Bowl from Croghan's Jewel Box in Charleston, which is where ours came from too. So maybe it's a Charleston thing.
But whatever its origin story may be, the camellia bowl is a tradition I'll joyfully share with bloom lovers everywhere. Because for me, it's more than a pretty little home accessory; it's a sort of talisman: When it's filled with flowers, plucked from the yard by my dad so that the rest of us can enjoy them up close, the camellia bowl is an invitation to slow down and appreciate the warmth and color that can be found in even the dreariest of seasons. It's a reminder that better days are on the way and that there's beauty in the waiting for them.
WATCH: Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Camellias
Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Camellias
Grumpy Gardener Steve Bender shares tips and tricks on how to plant and care for one of the South's favorite plants.