Visitors to the jewel of Eden Gardens State Park this month are in for a special treat as the gardens are offering up their best.

Hundreds of camellia bushes are presently in bloom.

"The camellias have been blooming since November," said Friends of Eden member Marianne Burbach. "And azaleas are coming in now too."

The Eden grounds are blessed with more than 260 camellia bushes, many of which were planted in the 1970s by the home's owner at that time, Lois Maxon. Maxon bought the home in 1963 when it was in disrepair and painstakingly restored it. She designed and started the gardens at Eden and 120 of the camellia bushes have been identified as being planted by her, said Friends of Eden member Carol Visalpartara.

As plants die, they are replaced and others have been planted to bring the number up.

The plants surround the mansion that was originally constructed in 1895 by one of the area's first settlers, William Henry Wesley, a prominent lumberman who operated sawmills on the grounds and in the area.

Huge rafts of raw timber were floated down the Choctawhatchee River to Wesley's mills, where the logs were sawed into lumber for export to Pensacola and beyond.

Wesley's design for the house was inspired by a plantation, but Victorian in style.

Maxon used the inspiration of a plantation in refurbishing the home to its present state.

Before her death Maxon donated the home and grounds to the state of Florida.

The Friends of Eden is a volunteer organization that organized to assist the park system in upkeep and caring for the gardens.

A few years back, the Friends decided to show off the glorious spectacle of the flowering camellias in all their glory, and decided to have a Camellia Festival to draw people out to see them.

"They're special," said Burbach. "They are beautiful and there are so many different varieties. That's cause to celebrate right there."

"You don't see them around here," chimed in Friends member Mary Jo Morris. "People don't plant them at their beach house. So we wanted to do an event to showcase them. Where else will you see 260 camellias?"

The Friends of Eden and Florida State Parks will pay tribute to the beautiful camellia on Feb. 18 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the garden grounds.

During the event, visitors are invited to stroll the grounds among the camellias, enjoy floral arrangement demonstrations, learn air layering and waxing for bloom preservation, and attend a program on camellia care presented by a master gardener. Guests may also purchase camellias, including the Friends' own "Virgie's Eden," named and registered in honor of Virgie Thompson who was devoted to the gardens.

The festival events will begin Feb. 18 at 10:15 with a presentation by Master Gardener Marie Harrison.

At 11:15 see a floral demonstration by Tim Ard of Emerald Coast Flowers and Gifts using camellias.

At 12:30 is the demonstration on air layering.

At 1 p.m. see a demonstration on waxing camellia blooms.

From 11 a.m. until noon The Steenos will perform at the stage area.

Several species of camellias will be available from the nursery for a donation.

Living history re-enactors will be present and food available to purchase.

The event is free but donations to the Friends are appreciated.