Festival of flowers at Oyster Bay's Planting Fields Arboretum


Although spring has not yet sprung, the camellias at the Planting Fields Arboretum have already started to bloom. Visitors to the arboretum saw them firsthand at the historical site’s Annual Camellia Festival, which attracts attendees from all over Long Island and beyond each year.

Planting Fields is well-known for its stately grounds, stunning architecture and extensive greenhouse gardens. Among its many floral features is the Camellia House, a greenhouse dedicated exclusively to housing the Coe family’s extensive collection of the beautiful flowers.

On Feb. 18 over 2,000 visitors made their way to the Planting Fields for the festival, where they were able to enjoy the sight of the exotic flowers in full bloom. Camellias naturally bloom in the middle of winter, from December to March.

Camellias are traditionally native to subtropical regions in eastern and southern Asia, and come in a wide variety of stunning colors. Gina Wouters, the arboretum’s executive director, explained that the flowers were initially brought over to Coe Hall by W.R. Coe, the founder of the estate that would become the Planting Fields.

Coe bought the initial batch that formed the base of the collection while visiting the Isle of Guernsey in the United Kingdom and thought they would be a wonderful addition to his new estate while it was still under construction. But the transfer did not go according to plan.

“When he came back to America and was working with his landscape architect, they told him that he had to build a greenhouse or the whole plant collection would die,” Wouters said. “So, what does one do when they’re incredibly wealthy? They build a dedicated greenhouse just to house the camellias.”

Today roughly a quarter of all the camellias in the greenhouse are descended from the initial collection brought over by Coe. 

In addition to viewing the flowers, festivalgoers had a wide range of activities to take advantage of during the event. There was a scavenger hunt and tours throughout the property, including a paid tour through Coe Hall itself.

There was also a live musical performance by the Long Island band the Como Brothers. The group, which has been featured on television shows such as “Keeping Up With The Kardashians!,” serenaded the Camellia House with their iconic mix of pop and rock sounds with a blues vibe.

Some attendees also watched a special Japanese tea ceremony. Camellias are an essential part of the making of chamomile tea, and the tea ceremony is a sacred art form practiced in Japan for centuries.

Wouters said the event was a great success. She is looking forward to hosting the event again next year.

“The event is really about building access for the community and giving them something truly spectacular to do in the winter,” Wouters explained. “It isn’t about making money or covering our costs, it’s just about creating something really special.”