You smell it before you see it. Marion Gosson and I stopped on the pathway, looked at each other and smiled. For us, it was the sweet smell of success.
Two years ago, the sweet smell was there, but you could not see the flowering shrubs whose bright yellow flowers perfumed the air. The shrubs were covered with invasive vines.
Last week, the Hilton Head Island Garden Club members held their February meeting at the Hilton Head Island Town Hall newly refurbished Xeriscape Interpretive Garden. Marion and I will always hear their first words, "I can hardly believe what you've done here." This from those who had visited the garden two or more years ago and saw over growth out of control, and badly damaged plants in the almost acre-size garden.
It was more then 300 hours in the planning. We reached out for money that would purchase plants, soil, compost, fertilizer, animal and insect sprays and people who would help to make the xeriscape garden what it was meant to be -- a landscape to promote the conservation of water with a minimum of maintenance,
We had the best help you could get: Clemson Agricultural Agent Laura Lee Rose, who supplied us with a list of men and women who'd recently taken the Master Gardener course; Sally Krebs, town contracts and services administrator; Alice Durain, town sustainable practical coordinator; The Hilton Head Island Garden Council, whose members -- and president Marion Gosson -- made this their main project for the year; and 34 of the best volunteer workers ever, who came to help prune, dig and plant.
We learned that the fragrant, yellow, flowering shrub was Jasminum humile, whose flowers bloom all summer; that the stick plants that look dead are the deciduous Hibiscus coccineus, sometimes called Texas star or swamp flower; and the shrub with drooping branches that had obliterated the garden pathways is coastal leucothoe.
By Valentine's Day, we had planted 330 trees, bulb, shrubs, perennials and vines -- almost all are natives. Many are known to gardeners in the Lowcountry -- the beautyberries, buckeyes, redbuds, azaleas -- and many are not often seen and sometimes difficult to find.
The many native plants that have disappeared from our forests and wet areas have become a beacon for us. We began to search out the rare native plants. Many have interesting and fun names: Hercules' club, horse sugar, fetterbush, St. Andrew's cross, toothache tree. And my personal favorite, the sparkleberry tree.
With the help of Daniel Payne of Naturescapes on Coosaw Island; this spring we plan to add maypop and rabbit tobacco plants to the garden, and, if Payne can locate it, the critically imperiled rusty lyonia. Lynn Taylor of Reflections Design found vibunum species and witch alder for us.
There are few non-native plants left from the original planting of the garden. One that was trying to take over is the aspidistra, or cast iron plant.
For sure, the garden lives up to its reputation "for brown thumb gardeners." When putting up signs, it was tempting to name the aspidistra area as "Rosemary Kratz's garden." Rosemary spent the better part of six hours trying to rid this iron-like monster, so that Becky Yearout, Marion Norman and Les Cantor could plant three dozen narcissus -- the southern varieties, pink charm, yellow cheerfulness and Barrett Browning, had been tested for success in the Lowcountry by Diane Middleton. A sign with Sherry Wojtulewicz's name could identify the native plants that she transplanted from her home garden.
Do I think that couples who garden together stay together? I do. There's something about the way the men are so willing to garden, even when their wives might know more about the subject than they do. Chauncey and Barbara Burtch disappeared into the garden woods on hot summer days, where he cut back huge dead branches and handed them to her. Ed and Johnee Pinkney share a talent for landscaping: he's a professional and she's a gifted helper. Stephen Yearout was there for Becky; David Norman for Marion; and Dick Gosson for his Marion.
Marion is a former schoolteacher whose skill in organization and record-keeping has proved to be of enormous benefit to this project. When I asked her to name her favorite plant in the garden, she answered "partridge berry." We both laughed, as this small trailing plant with colorful scarlet berries is a true Hilton Head native, having been transplanted from my yard where it had volunteered many years ago.
For their help, thanks go to The Town of Hilton Head Island, The Low Country Institute, Spring Island Trust, The Low Country Master Gardener's Association, The Hilton Head Island Garden Club, The Island Transplants, Colleton River Plantation Garden Club, The Achievers and The Island Beautification Association.
Sixty-year Master Gardener and environmentalist Betsy Jukofsky has spent three decades on Hilton Head Island learning the peculiarities of Lowcountry gardening.