Walking beneath ancient live oaks, we spotted the bright blossoms from quite a distance. “I bet those are flame azaleas!”
One of the showiest of native azaleas in the Southeast, Florida flame azalea stands out in spring with its brilliant flash of golden orange against the light green of new growth in the forest.
Normally, you’d need to hike up into rugged wild spaces in this region to see them in bloom.
Yet right along the walkway, several of these beauties lined the path to the Camellia Garden, all at peak bloom for the season.
A hidden gem in Tallahassee, Dorothy B. Oven Park is a city park on the former location of the Camellia Nursery of Tallahassee.
The nursery was established in 1919 by one of Florida’s earliest camellia growers, Breckenridge Gamble.
The house in the center of Dorothy Oven Park is the one that Gamble lived in starting in 1936, transforming the nursery into his personal garden paradise.
Plan Your Visit
Location: Tallahassee, FL
Address: 3205 Thomasville Rd, Tallahassee, FL 32308
Hours: 7 AM to 11 PM daily
Encompassing seven acres including a natural pond, Dorothy B. Oven Park was gifted to the City of Tallahassee by its last owner, Will J. Oven Jr.
The manor home at its center is used for many special events, including civic group meetings, seminars, and weddings.
Restrooms are located at the house. While not all of the trails through the gardens are accessible, many of them are.
The camellia gardens are at their prime in February, and the azaleas from February through mid-March.
During December, a Christmas light display illuminates the dormant gardens and the manor home, providing a beautiful walk after dark.
From Interstate 10 in Tallahassee, take exit 203 and follow Thomasville Road south. Watch signage so you stay with Thomasville Rd (FL 61) under the interstate.
The park entrance is 0.7 miles south on the left side of the highway. Drive in the winding driveway and park near the manor home.
Once part of the 1824 land grant of the Marquis de Lafayette – just like Goodwood to its east – it passed into the hands of Breckenridge Gamble (1874 – 1955).
Gamble’s passion was camellias. In 1829, his great-grandfather Colonel Robert Gamble, brought a camellia japonica to Florida from a Japanese trading vessel.
In 1919, the camellia was moved from the Colonel’s home to Killearn Plantation, Alfred MacLay’s newly acquired home to the north of the city.
Founding the Camellia Nursery of Tallahassee on this site, Breckenridge Gamble was said to “know the location of every camellia in Tallahassee,” according to the American Camellia Society.
Becoming good friends with Alfred MacLay, he worked his connections throughout the South to feed MacLay’s desire to fill Killearn Gardens with camellias.
In turn, MacLay designed the house you see here in the middle of the gardens. If you’ve been to MacLay Gardens State Park, you’ll notice the similarities to the MacLay home.
The manor sits atop a hill shaded by grand live oaks, with the gardens flowing downhill in every direction.
The floors are a soft poplar and the paneling magnolia, neither of which were common building materials for their time.
Gamble adopted two sons, who helped him with the nursery business. The park is named for his son Bill Rosa’s widow Dorothy.
It was donated to the city by Dorothy’s second husband William Oven after her death.
Inside the Gardens
Set under the canopy of live oaks, the gardens vary greatly in age. The oldest garden is in front of the house, where you’ll find both camellias and azaleas.
Developed by the Camellia and Garden Club of Tallahassee, the Camellia Garden has aged brick forming circular paths that echo the shape of the fountain at its center.
The spiral of spring blooms along the walkways invite close inspection, as they include many different colorful cultivars and hybrids.
Downhill from the great lawn in front of the house, the edges of the lawn are accented with plantings of azaleas.
Our two native species – Florida flame azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) and Florida pinxter or Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens) – put on quite a show.
The orange and pink blossoms fit nicely into the woodland garden, deliberately unkempt but well-tended beneath the natural canopy of oaks and pines.
Southwest of the manor, on the opposite side of the park entrance road, a series of
man-made cascades burble beneath the tall pines.
Papyrus grows in the perpetual damp. Benches provide a place for relaxation. Younger garden beds with seasonal flowers surround the water feature.
Behind the manor home, bamboo clusters create shaded niches. A wooden water tower is almost hidden by the height of the loblolly pines that surround it.
The open hillside behind the house is broken up by flower beds and flowering trees, with pathways winding along its edges and snaking through it.
Those gardens slope down to a large pond, a stopover point for Canadian geese and a frequent sunning spot for turtles.
The City of Tallahassee rents out the manor home on a regular basis and holds special events here. Access to the gardens may be limited during those times.
Of course, this is a wedding and reception venue for Tallahassee brides. Prices are listed on their website.
Walk through Dorothy Oven Park with us by viewing our photographs from our visit. Click to open the gallery.