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Young horticulturist breaks new ground at Magnolia Gardens

Seth Allen, who showed early signs as a plant enthusiast as a boy in Loxley, Ala., was destined to become the first curator of collections at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. In this newly created position, Allen will oversee the propagation, documentation and hybridization of plants, including an effort to expand Magnolia’s historic camellia collection, Tom Johnson, Magnolia’s executive director said. Since the 1840s, 147 camellias have been named and registered at Magnolia. Johnson said, “Seth will help us continue that tradition at America’s oldest garden.”

Allen is currently a propagator at Green Nurseries and Landscape in Fairhope, Ala., his first fulltime position in the plant industry after he earned a horticulture degree in 2013 from Auburn University. His resume includes an internship at the prestigious Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa. This year, he received a master’s degree in horticulture from Auburn, which likely came as no surprise to his family.

“My mom said my first word was flower,” Allen said with a broad smile. “I was always interested in plants. At our home, I had a garden with vegetables and annuals. When I was eleven a lady in my church invited me to join the local camellia club.” Being the youngest member of the club, Allen certainly stood out among the adults who helped him hone his interest in camellias.

The large white bloom of Alba Plena, is Allen’s favorite camellia. “It was one of the first brought to the United States in the late 1700s,” he said. “It is fascinating to me that we still grow plants that old and that is what has drawn me to Magnolia.” A large Alba Plena stands on the river side of the main house at Magnolia where the Rev. John Grimké Drayton, who established the romantic-style gardens at Magnolia, planted it in the 1840s.

This new opportunity at Magnolia excites Allen. “This garden has a huge history with camellias. So many camellias have been introduced from this garden” he said. “A lot of those (camellias) are not as popular as Professor Sargent. It will be fun to see some new camellias and some old friends.”

When Allen begins as curator at Magnolia on Jan. 1 his responsibilities will include leading guests on camellia walks through the gardens and immersing them in camellia history. “I am so looking forward to sharing all of the things I’ve learned throughout the years with more people. Join me as I share my interest in historical plant collections. I will also need volunteers to get involved with some of the new projects I have planned.”