You are invited to celebrate National Garden Week June 4-8 when the Beaufort Garden Club presents its 18th annual Garden-A-Day tour of five private gardens. A different garden will be open each day from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Each has been planned, planted and cared for by the lady of the house. All are Master Gardeners, and members of the Lowcountry Master Gardener Association will be on hand to answer questions. Admission to the gardens is free.
The Beaufort Garden Club's reputation of giving back to the community might well have begun when the club formed in 1934 -- along with the decision to keep the club small.
They have only 29 members. Two years ago, the group celebrated its 75th anniversary with special recognition going to Evie Mitchell and Peggy Sanders, who have been members for 57 years.
What you, their guest, will see in five days took me two days and 10 hours -- thanks to my tour guides Sandra Educate and Kathi McKinley, who knew all the shortcuts to take from one garden to the next, who helped to choose the gardens, and, most importantly, were able to come up with the names of plants unfamiliar to me.
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There's a lot to learn and wonder at.
These passionate gardeners appear to have been all over the map, searching out the rare and exotic in the Southern states. And what they couldn't find in plant form, they found in seed catalogs and grew themselves.
GARDEN OF LINDA PETERS
Let us start with June 4. The first garden is at 1 Blythewood Road, Lady's Island. Wear walking shoes as you'll be covering 5 magical acres. You'll see a rooftop garden, a huge pet turtle, exotic, talking birds and one very vain peacock.
Follow winding paths through borders of jungle-size plants with breaks for creative artwork by Linda Peters, the gardener here. Bonsai, bamboo orchids, a huge staghorn fern, tropical plants with enormous leaves include the seldom seen, very Southern rice paper plant (Tetrapanax papyriferus). Go past the old Savannah brickwork, three bottle trees, the children's miniature garden and into the full sun and a rose garden. Do not miss the seldom-seen native Devil's Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa).
GARDEN OF SANDRA EDUCATE
June 5 finds us at Sandra Educate's house and garden at 100 Green Winged Teal Drive, Lady's Island. Educate calls her garden a collector's garden, and so it is. Bring your camera for this one. Water features complement the colors of dozens of lilies, the "Lady in Red" lace hydrangea, chocolate daisies, many "Mona Lavenders," Jewels of Opar, zinnias, a mimosa with wine-colored foliage. My head began to spin, what with all the exotica, rarely seen except in public gardens. The name Tony Avent kept cropping up. Educate has visited Avent's celebrated Plant's Delights Nursery in Raleigh more then once. I admired the weeping redbud, the "Grancy Gray Beard" fringe tree, tropical plumeria, the Japanese maple "Butterfly" and Halesia "Silver Bell."
This is a true collector's garden.
GARDEN OF KATHI MCKINLEY
On June 6, you're in Kathi McKinley's garden at 9 Sandy Ridge Road, Beaufort. McKinley tells me that before moving to Beaufort, she hadn't done much gardening. Five years ago she took the Master Gardener course and it set her on a path to a passion for her land and the Lowcountry. In a short time, this fast learner has collected some of the most unusual plants to be seen anywhere. In flower now are a hybridized "Cherokee Bean," a huge "Lion's Paw" (Leonotis), red Ruella and the dwarf Serissa shrub. Containers throughout the garden are filled with a mixture of flowering annuals.
GARDEN OF TEI TOBER
It's a big one June 7 at 50 St. Phillips Blvd., Habersham. Tei Tober, the gardener here, is known among her fellow Master Gardeners for her inability to say no to a plant. "There's always room for one more," she says. The large backyard has room for a series of gardens, each different. Standouts are the hydrangeas, hostas, plumerias and oak leaf hydrangeas. The unusual paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) has yellow buds that hang on after the shrub loses its foliage; the seldom-seen calla lilies are in flower. There's also an evergreen hydrangea (Dichroa febrifuga) and much to learn here. Tober sets us straight on Elephant Ears: Alocasia has leaves that turn down; the shiny leaves of colocasia turn up.
GARDEN OF SUSAN HARDEN
On June 8, you're at 121 Sunset Blvd., Lady's Island, at the garden of Susan Harden, who says she can't take all the credit for her garden. The property that slopes down to the waterfront told her what it wanted, and she did it. Ornamental grasses were the logical choice for a dry, sandy and sunny site. This busy lady is a golfer who attends many tournaments, travels with her husband, is the treasurer of the Lowcountry Master Gardeners Association, and is a team member of the Rent-A-Master Gardener program. She finds time somehow to tend three separate gardens: the buffer garden of ornamental grasses and agave; a shade garden that's an education as to what to plant in heavy shade; plus a thriving vegetable and herb garden. She is often found at a local nursery, on the lookout for a special plant or two. A generous gardener, she shares graciously. Visiting her garden means coming home with a cutting or some seeds.
After viewing these beautiful and unusual gardens, what have I learned? It's this: There is something going on out there, and I don't know yet how important it may turn out to be. The unusually warm winter has brought confusion into the plant world. The fall-flowering purple mist flower is blooming now; the figs that ripen in June are ripe in May; hydrangeas are a month or more ahead of flowering time; rain lilies have finished blooming weeks ahead of their usual schedule; citrus tree fruit is ready to eat; and many of summer's vegetables are ready to be picked. We cut roses in the month of March.
A very interesting year so far.