ALBANY — It would have been impossible on Wednesday morning to identify once-tended camellia bushes at Hilsman Park, but a group of Alabama teenagers helped uncover part of the buried treasure known as “Tip’s Garden.”

The marker and plaque identifying A.L. “Tip” Tipson’s work as part of a now defunct men’s garden club also was hidden by other plants prior to the efforts by the mission group from the Trinity Methodist Church of Prattville, Ala.

The group, dispatched to Albany as part of Mission:Change, had already walked dogs and helped clean up at the Albany Humane Society shelter, served food to the homeless and assisted Fredando Jackson with his community feeding program in their first two days.

On Wednesday, the 14 were joined by neighbors from the Palmyra Heights area and members of SOWEGA Master Gardeners in the clean-up effort organized by Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful.

“This is my third or fourth one I’ve been on,” 18-year-old Mason Williams said of the mission trip. “It’s good to help the people who need your help. (Today) we’re cleaning the underbrush and the vines on the trees.”

The camellia garden that lines one side of the park, known to long-time residents as “the sinkhole,” only recently was taken over by sticker vines and fast-growing Chinese tallow, also known as “popcorn trees,” said Chip Battle, who lives next door to the park and whose property borders an alley and the camellia garden.

Battle, who was helping remove the unwanted plant growth with the church group, said that as many as 100 pine trees were felled by a January 2017 tornado. The city of Albany removed the trees but with the stumps protruding from the ground and littering the area, maintenance fell to the wayside.

“Before that the city would mow it,” he said. “I’d come out and keep the bushes out of the garden.”

The group was able to uncover only a small portion of the garden, but Battle said he hopes the work continues and the city resumes maintenance.

“It’s really an asset to the city, and I’m glad the neighbors have shown an interest in it,” Battle said. “It’s a nice camellia garden when it’s cleaned up. It can be a very nice garden.”

Ultimately, one goal is to have the garden placed on the state’s Camellia Trail list, said SOWEGA Master Gardeners member Elaine Gurley.

Members, who are University of Georgia Extension Service volunteers, come out once a month to work in the camellia area, said Albert Sanders, president of the group.

Judy Bowles, executive director of Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful, said it was great to see the flowering plants re-emerge once the covering growth was removed. Bowles, who grew up a few blocks from the park, also said she liked the coming together of volunteers from the church group and nearby residents.

“The beauty of this (is) there are five neighbors out here working with these volunteers, which is always awesome,” she said.

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