What better way to make a grand splash along U.S. 278 than to encourage developments to compete for the entrance with the highest visual impact from the road?
And who better to judge than the members of the Island Beautification Association, experienced gardeners all?
The association is an offshoot of the Island Beautification Committee that was formed in 1972 to beautify the then two-lane highway. Its mission is to improve the overall aesthetics of the island's public areas.
The association's eight members meet once a month under the chairmanship of Steve Tennant, who has been a member since 1985. Also on the committee are Doris Lindner, Helene Gruber, Tom Kurtz, Suzy Baldwin, Carol Totti, George Westerfield and me. Our meetings begin with reports from Alice Derain, contracts and service administrator, and representatives from Hilton Head Landscape, Southern Palmetto, Valley Crest and Ocean Woods.
After their reports, we hit the roads to clean up litter spilled from trash trucks. We are responsible for the newly planted medians, as well as the pruning of well-established shrubs and trees.
Two weeks ago, we piled into a large van and rated the community's entrance plantings for our annual contest. We used a point system; points were awarded for design, plant material used, texture and harmony. Do you think for one moment that you can easily get eight men and women to agree that, say, purple and yellow look great together?
Palmetto Hall may be off the beaten track, but it's a plantation entrance. They always have something interesting going on. Carol said the planting reminded her of an English garden, but Tom thought it didn't jump out at us. Steve thought the marigolds, petunias and geraniums were good mixers.
Helene thought Hilton Head Plantation to be very colorful, and Suzy gave the hydrangeas high marks. There was lots to see at Indigo Run -- too much for the eye to take in, according to Steve -- and Helene thought the design lacked unity. Doris thought it was impressive from the road, but overall it was deemed very neat.
At Windmill Harbour, the visual impact was deemed low. Suzy thought there was good color harmony, but commented that too much red always dies. At Long Cove Club, Steve commented on how well it was maintained. They had plants in sun colors, but not enough variety, Tom thought. Mostly, everyone liked the plant choices. It was the first time many of us had seen white sunpatiens.
Sea Pines is judged by its first garden in a series of gardens. The red and white geraniums looked great in the spring, but there wasn't much variety, and Carol thought there was no rhythm. George pointed out that they should trim the flax lily.
Shipyard Plantation featured red and purple flowers, pentas and coleus. Tom said there was not enough variety. Palmetto Dunes Resort also had red and purple, with the added texture of evergreens. It came off looking good, I thought. But there is also yellow hibiscus and pentas, and Carol thought the colors didn't blend.
On our first look at Port Royal Plantation, we all noted there was a lot to see. George said even with one eye closed, this garden would be tremendous. The orange hibiscus is a standout, and we all liked the way the designer had layered the plants.
On our way to lunch, where we would count up the points and choose the winner, we passed Shelter Cove Harbor and its garden entrance. We all agreed it had huge impact. Too bad it wasn't a contestant.
The spaghetti at Carpaccio's was delicious, and ultimately we deemed Port Royal Plantation the winner.
Congratulations go to the the plantation show garden designers; they are winners all. Thanks to their expertise in making a show -- their talent in using new and old plant varieties in unusual ways to show them off -- getting stalled in traffic is easier on us all.
Sixty-year master gardener and environmentalist Betsy Jukofsky has spent three decades on Hilton Head Island learning the peculiarities of Coastal Lowcountry gardening.