Plantation entrances still seduce passers-by

It seems that Hilton Head Island has embraced the concept of the annual contest. Throughout the year, scheduled events celebrating things ranging from barbecue to seafood are held. Such events mostly feature food and are staged outdoors.

Right in step then is the eighth annual Island Beautification Association's contest to choose the plantation entrance with the best-looking planted garden fronting William Hilton Parkway.

Seven members, including myself, riding hip to elbow in a large van recently proceeded up and down the roadway. With frequent stops we judged the nine entrance landscapes on their visual impact from a moving vehicle. This makes up 60 percent of the overall score. Impact criteria include design, color, texture, harmony and contrast. Landscape material chosen by plantation entrance designers makes up 40 percent of the overall score. Contest judges gave high marks to all for the maintenance and condition of the gardens.

It was a close contest. All agreed that the entrance plantings grow more beautiful each year. And the winner, with a score of 95 percent, is Palmetto Dunes. The plantation has that mix of sun-loving dwarf duranta, croton, pentas and hibiscus married just right with the softer colors of geraniums and angelonia, while the green of "Pringles" dwarf podocarpus gives out a welcome cooling effect. The association will present a framed certificate of commendation to Palmetto Dunes at a ceremony in June.

There were many new and exciting plants used in the gardens that were attention-getters. Palmetto Hall has made use of big-leaf begonias and white pentas with compact gaura, three plants high on the list of gardeners seeking the "latest." It was here that judge Suzy Baldwin exclaimed, "Look, it's a native coral bean!"

It was great to see that scarlet spike and find that not all of the surrounding native plant material had been cleared away.

"Huge impact with yellow marigolds and croton at Wexford; it just pops," judge Doris Lindner said.

Island Beautification Association chairman Steve Tennant called attention to the seldom-used "Oyster" plant in the Wexford Plantation garden. Tradescantia is also called "Moses-in-the-Cradle"; its striking sword-shaped leaves are green above, deep purple beneath. It's a tough plant that can take high heat and humidity.

When viewing the overall entrances and exits at Hilton Head and Indigo Run plantations, the judges agreed that if considering the overview -- and they do not -- these gardens would certainly be in the running for their sky-high visual impact. Carol Toti suggested that visitors to Sea Pines not miss the garden on the other side of the gate. It's another "wow" for the multi-colored mix of dwarf hibiscus with enormous flowers.

For the past two years the association has presented appreciation certificates to the business and commercial interests on U.S. 278 which have created gardens at their entrances. The list of those participating has grown like crab grass. Those participating should be commended, and they are, with certificates recognizing their part in beautifying William Hilton Parkway. This year's list: Pineland Station, Shelter Cove Harbour, The Mall at Shelter Cove, Yacht Cove, Fresh Market Shoppes, Legendary Golf, The Greenery, The Village at Wexford, Surf Watch, Waters Edge and the Town of Hilton Head Island.