Lowcountry gardening experts share their backyard tips

betsjukofsky@aol.comSeptember 1, 2013 

A new garden gate is seen in Annemarie Kinsky's garden.

What a difference 10 years can make in gardens when they're being tended to by passionate gardeners. Last week I visited the gardens of Annemarie Kinsky and Tim Drake on Hilton Head Island, expecting to be wowed, and I was, and then some.

These two are seemingly on top of all the advances in horticulture in the past decade, the new plant varieties and, perhaps, more importantly, our gradual change in climate. Tropical flowers have been mixed with Lowcountry favorites to create a landscape that was not possible a decade ago. One must give a shout out, too, to our local nurseries for making this huge menu available.

Annemarie invited me over to see her "new garden." I crossed over the front yard and around the side, and there it was, a hand-crafted garden gate that led to her new large garden. There were a multitude of plants flowering that I recognized, many I did not. I was filled with questions.

Question. What is the vine with scalloped leaves that's climbing the garden gate?

Answer. It's a new variety of the common sweet potato vine. I found it at Garden Gate. This is the only vine that I prune. All other vines in the yard are let go; the passion flower vine is more then 20 feet tall and flowers all summer; the Summer wisteria is from cuttings; it's not invasive. The Glory Bower (Clerodendrum) is from Ned Rahn's nursery. It's just taken off. You've got to let vines do their own thing.

Q. Your Persian shield plants with their purple silvery leaves are perfect complements for the peacock ginger, coral bells, the pink hydrangeas. Is that a Tibouchina?

A. It is; it's from Bruno's. It's listed as tropical, yet it came through last winter without damage. The peacock ginger is a favorite; I found it at Green Thumb. The Georgia peach coral bells don't do well here; what you see are the variety, Caramel. The hydrangeas are all volunteers.

Q. I'm not surprised. You have a reputation as one of our most accomplished local propagation gardeners. The leaves on your Bear Britches are huge. I'm wondering, do you treat your soil?

A. Yes, once a year I spread a mix of three parts mushroom compost, to one part sphagnum moss. In early spring I spread 10x10x10 on all beds; in late July, Miracle Grow liquid. The mild winter we had has given the plants a boost toward new growth, as has our plentiful rain. This climate has brought out the insects, as you can see by the holes in many plants.

Before leaving I took a photo of a plant I'd admired in Annemarie's garden a year ago. This almost ever-blooming bulb is from The Greenery and called Siam tulip. I did a check on her Firespike (Odontonema strictum) to see how it's growing. It's now a spectacular shrub. I fell in love with this plant when I saw it in Key West years ago. Annemarie gave me a cutting of hers two years ago; it's now 10 feet tall. It flowers in late summer and with only two hours of sunlight daily.

Like the Kinsky garden, Tim Drake's estate garden is tour worthy. I can't think what's not there and what is there is bigger then any like plant I've seen except in Costa Rica. Color, oh my, and he knows just how to make a border pop.

Q. Your Caladium bulb flowers are enormous, the leaf plants of Coleus, elephant ears, Egyptian paper and tapioca plant are the largest I've seen. What gives?

A. The weather. The no frost winter allowed semi-tropical plants to survive and take off as soon as the warm weather arrived. The plentiful rains have given Coleus, Caladiums, Elephant ears and the Sweet Carolina potato vines a push. The Vodoo lilies came up early; the Ligularia seems to grow a foot a week.

Q. All up, down and around your border, there's pop. Your combination of copper king and pineapple splash coleus is genius. You're showcasing my favorite Vinca of the year, Jams 'n' Jellies Blackberry. They had but one left when I found it at The Greenery. What other new varieties of our summer favorites did you find?

A. I'm not sure if the orange Impatiens plants that run up, down and around the border between the green plants are new, but I've never seen another that bright. There are new herb varieties in the small herb garden too. What is really new here is a way of showcasing plants. With the use of hanging baskets, statuary and my favorite, a discarded, stone trash can found in Sea Pines, I've been able to create a multilevel look. This is especially effective using trailing plants to soften edges.

It's effective all right, as I left with arms full of cuttings, I took a look across the road at the water surrounded by a variety of trees. All were planted by Tim and include silver maple trees, not a tree pegged hardy in the Lowcountry. We could all wish for Drake and Kinsky green thumbs.

Sixty-year master gardener and environmentalist Betsy Jukofsky has spent three decades on Hilton Head Island learning the peculiarities of Coastal Lowcountry gardening.

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