Camellias Light up Murer House and includes tips for home gardener

Published March 15, 2018 Mountain Democrat, Placerville, Ca.
Betty Albert Special to the Democrat

A crowd of camellia lovers gathered Saturday, February 24, 2018 at Historic Murer House and Gardens for the 4th Annual Camellia Show. Joe Murer planted camellias from local nurseries in 1926 in the Murer House gardens, where seven of those nearly century-old trees remain today. Many visitors brought blooms to be judged at this year’s show. All stayed to hear two presentations by Greg Gayton, California Certified Nursery Professional with Green Acres Nursery & Supply, who shared tips on selection, growing and maintenance of these historic plants.

Ancient Chinese literature records ornamental camellias in Japan, China and Southeast Asia, and brought to Sacramento in 1852, according to the Camellia Society of Sacramento. The flood of 1861 and 1862 destroyed much of the camellia population and interest waned until 1910, when a movement was started to make Sacramento the “Camellia Capitol.” Sacramento adopted the camellia as the city’s official flower in 1941.

The Camellia Society of Sacramento, founded in 1943, is a non-profit organization that meets October through April to study camellia culture, care and growth. Probably due to the camellia, Sacramento’s sister city is Matsuyama, Japan. Today, species and their cultivars grow worldwide as hybrids, sasanqua, hiemales and japonica to heights of 20’ tall and 10-12’ wide. They can live for hundreds of years. In the world of camellia taxonomy, their one universal trait of beauty prepares them for a world of comparison and competition equal to nothing less than the likes of a Miss Universe pagent.


Bill Kitagawa of Sacramento’s “Toichi Domato” bloom took third place as well as peoples’ choice in the Murer House show. Second place went to Folsom’s Jim Raines’ “Haru NoUtena.” Sonyia Noonan of Folsom took first place with her “Mathotiana Supreme” bloom. Best of show was again Jim Raines with his “Swadas Dream,Raines_0059 3

a 20-year old plant according to Raines. Last year at Murer House, Raines won first place with his “Colonel Fiery”.


Judge for the show was Greg Gayton, who joined Green Acres (then Matsuda’s) at 19 years of age. “I’m 60 now,” he said, “and I’ve never lost the passion I have for teaching others, especially about giving camellias more generational recognition. Our millennials need to learn and appreciate their historical significance and beauty.” When asked what he looked for in a competitive specimen, Gayton talked about the bloom’s form, color, overall beauty and perfection. He congratulated those who brought blooms because he said that these varieties cannot be found now, they come from very old cultivars.

“People think camellias are fussy and hard to grow,” Gayton related, “but the opposite is true. They can survive neglect very well, and are drought tolerant. Japonicas need a little shade, and all camellias like cooler roots. Keep all fallen debris picked up, provide plenty of mulch, and be sure to plant them on the high side.”GregGayton_0040

Working closely with horticultural specialists in California, Gayton spoke of current propagation techniques Green Acres has contributed that will bring new and hardier camellias into our climate zones.

He cautioned the audience to keep their plants away from walnut trees and redwoods.

“Most important to camellias,” he said “is the soil. It should be a specific mix like the one we make such as 80% finely ground aged bark (1/4”fir, pine, cedar) 10% Builders sand and 10% peat moss. A lot of peat and/or bagged commercial mixtures with synthetic ingredients are not recommended. Look for the CDFA organic label on fertilizer, mulch or soil from local producers for our climate like GNB or E. B. Stone.”2018Camellia_0007

In addition to excellent drainage, mulch is important. Gayton said to add mulch around the plant, but keep it well away (12”) from the trunk of the plant.

Sulfur can help keep the pH around 5 if a soil test indicates more acidity is needed and especially if your buds do not open,” he said, “and the potassium and nitrogen in liquid fish emulsion helps the plant’s vigor, immunity, and tolerance of our heavy soils. Too much nitrogen can burn leaves. Feed with acid-loving fertilizer or the fish emulsion after the bloom in spring and again in mid-summer if growth seems sparse. “

Another caution was overwatering in continued hot spells. “Dig down into the earth with care not to damage surface roots, and you’ll probably be surprised. If the soil is full of nutrients like it should be, it will hold moisture just fine,” Gayton advised. “Regular watering doesn’t mean every day.”

Botrytis or Ciborinia Petal Blight (brown petals) affects all cultivars of camellia japonica. C. sasanqua is less infected in California according to the UC integrated pest management program. Look to the condition of soil, watering and nutrients for resolution.

More information on:

The 94th Annual Camellia Show in Sacramento at the Memorial Auditorium, 1515 J Streets, will be held Saturday and Sunday, March 3 and 4, 2018. More details at:

The “Dig into Spring” Seminars March 10 and 11, 2018, at Green Acres, 205 Serpa Way, Folsom, CA. give participants weekend ideas on many gardening topics. Call 916.358.9099 M-Sat. 7a-6p Sun: 8a-6p More details at:



Folsom Forefather Commemorated via Sister City Tour to Italy


Seats still available — sign up today


Rialto Bridge on Venice Canal

This annual tour to Italy, sponsored by Historical Murer House in Folsom, will take place from April 9-19 2018. The group of 20 “ambassadors” for Folsom will meet the citizens of Crespano del Grappa, near Venice in northern Italy.   Crespano is waiting and planning a special concert and dinner, guided tours and much more.  Tour leader Norma Petta from Italy Easy Travel in Folsom can answer specific questions for those interested in the tour in the Veneto region, which begins in Venice and includes Crespano del Grappa, Montello Prosecco Wine Region, Lago di Garda, Bassano del Grappa, Monte Grappa, Verona and ends in Florence.  There are a few available reservations left of this tour. Contact Norma Petta (916 985 3250) if you would like more information about this tour or a different, private group tour of your own.

Historic Murer House, Learning Center and Museum are located at 1125 Joe Murer Ct., Folsom, Ca. 530 985 7324. Open House is the first Saturday of the month from 10a.m. until 2p.m. Information about classes and events at

Historical Murer House

 History of Murer in Folsom (Murer House Photo)

Giuseppe (Joe) Murer was born in Crespano del Grappa on November 15, 1885. He apprenticed in and mastered carpentry, cabinet making and finish work. After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, Joe and three other young men came to California when they heard of the plentiful work for carpenters. He was 21 years old, and an entrepreneur at heart. He became an American citizen, organized local groups, belonged to many civic organizations, and served as Chief on the Folsom Volunteer Fire Department.

He built the back-bar in the Folsom Hotel, which survives to this day.  “Joe,” as he became known, eventually bought the Folsom Hotel and went on to design, build and operate other businesses on Sutter Street including a gas station and garage, the Folsom firehouse (which survives on the north side of the 700 block), and the old Folsom post office at 627 Sutter Street.

Giuseppe Murer

Joe acquired the property along Folsom Boulevard in 1921 and by 1925 had expanded his holdings to include four vacant lots and two small wood frame houses, which he rented out.  In 1925, Joe began building his own home, a simple but well crafted design in the Italianate style of the northern Italy of his youth.  Joe was something of a renaissance man, incorporating many modern concepts into his home.  The one foot thick, poured concrete walls and tiled roof kept the house comfortable on all but the hottest summer days when he would retreat to the loft room to sleep more comfortably.

The house was plumbed for both hot and cold running water even though he did not install a hot water heater until the 1960s.  The built-in sideboard and bookcases in the dining room reflect his cabinetry skills and Joe succeeded in having the Natomas Company water line extended to his house during its construction.  When Joe built his house, he also constructed a garage on one side and a workshop on the other.

Antonio Zanetta, joined him in 1927 to do much of the finish work. Antonio’s son, Fred Zanetta was also a builder in Folsom, and his contribution to the Folsom Historical Society, Zanetta’s Barn, sits behind the museum on Sutter Street today. Fred was responsible for building a community of homes in the Natoma area with remarkable stone and brickwork, including a working aqueduct to 1/8/scale along the lines of the Pont du Gard in Southern France. Patricia Zanetta, Fred’s wife is a docent at the Murer House Museum. “I remember Joe Murer well,” she said. “He was always pleasant and sociable and liked people. I would bring him a Christmas cake each year. Joe was not tall,” she recalled. “Maybe 5’ 5”. I could look at his face at eye level.”  (Photos of Fred Zanetta’s homes and aqueduct)

An example of a Zanetta home

Zanetta’s Aqueduct

She said that her husband was related to an entire generation of contractors, and particular in his work. “Joe Murer hired him to complete the stucco and tile work, and that stucco, now 90 years old, hasn’t a crack in it.”

Joe never married but welcomed his large group of friends to his home and gardens for gatherings during his life.

There were two other houses on the property that Joe rented out. Today they are part of the Murer House compound. Cindy Baker, past president and programming director of the non-profit Historic Murer House Foundation and Learning Center, remembers Joe’s gentle nature with kids. “Joe was always happy to see us show up for a visit. He was usually in his yard or workshop doing something. A big treat was getting to feed his gold fish in the fountain out front. Joe used to pick up chestnuts for me in his garden when I was a little girl. He would carefully use his pen knife to peel off the outer layers. His fruit trees were wonderful and he always had us come pick Bing cherries by the bag full when they were in season. Preserving the site and helping tell his story, along with his role in Folsom history, has been a great joy.”

Joe passed away in November 1972 and is buried in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery, just across Folsom Boulevard from his home.

 Crespano Learns of Murer

The formal relationship between Folsom and Crespano came together after a visiting Italian researcher, Alessandro Trojani, dropped in on Folsom. He learned of the life of Giuseppe Murer when he visited a Folsom History Museum exhibit on the contributions of Italians during the Gold Rush and the Murer House site.

In August 1999, encouraged by Trojani, a Crespano delegation including Mayor Lorenzo Capovilla and council member Michela Belo traveled to Folsom and the Murer House.  They marveled at architectural touches from their hometown in Italy clearly visible in some of the buildings on Folsom’s historic Sutter Street.  After tours of Intel, Kikkoman and other prominent businesses, the Crespano contingent was feted at a dinner held in Lanza’s Family Italian Restaurant on Sutter Street where Mayor Capovilla suggested that the two communities seek a long-term relationship.  In June 2000, Crespano issued a formal invitation to enter into a sister relationship.  Soon after, the Folsom City Council approved a proposed Declaration of Friendship signed in Crespano del Grappa at an official ceremony held September 29, 2000.

Highlights of the Veneto Region include the architecture Andrea Palladio of Padua (1508-1589) is noted for, namely, villas, churches and palaces. This is the architect who, according to acclaimed researcher Bruce Boucher, was the most influential architect the western world has ever produced. His influence was held in high regard in England as well as in the U.S. Thomas Jefferson is said to have followed Palladio in designing the estate home in Virginia.

Caneletto’s “Capriccio View with Palladio’s Design”

Canaletto (1697-1768), the “painter of Venice” painted “Capriccio View with Palladio’s Design for the Rialto Bridge” in 1742 using a black and white woodcut design by Palladio who was asked for a design for the bridge. Antonio Da Ponte’s single-arch design was chosen for the Rialto instead and built between 1588-1590. The bridge Palladio did build and was eventually restored according to his design is the wooden pontoon bridge in Bassano del Grappa.

Bassano wooden bridge originally designed by Palladio

In addition to its production of the Italian register-marked liqueur Grappa, this region is well known for the memorial to the thousands of soldiers killed in World War 1 atop Mount Grappa close to the Austrian border.

Famous people and war generals came and went from this region including Napoleon, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. During its war torn years, at “the battle of Codroipo” in 1917, losses were catastrophic and represented 75% of the total Italian force on the battlefield.


Submitted by Betty Albert

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