David Lauderdale

Garden sleuths document beautiful pasts

They say that to plant a garden is to believe in the future.

Seventeen women proved it Monday as they combed through an old garden in downtown Beaufort.

Members of five garden clubs came armed with tape measures, pencils, reference books and a sandwich for lunch. They documented the condition of a garden at 1305 Bay St., where the late John M. Trask Sr. and Flora G. Trask turned sand spurs into an elegant garden in 1950.

Flora Trask was an avid gardener who believed in the future. After the Trasks bought the house in 1939, they hired landscape architect Robert E. Marvin of Walterboro to work his special Lowcountry magic in the backyard. Marvin -- who would act as a natural soul mate to Sea Pines founder Charles E. Fraser in shaping the values of Hilton Head Island and help design Beaufort's Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park on his way to building a national reputation -- surrounded the Trasks' garden with a 6-foot, lace brick wall because he believed nothing should "spill over" a fence.

Flora Trask may not have guessed the garden would someday be spilling over with ladies participating in the Historic Landscape Initiative of the Garden Club of South Carolina. Volunteers statewide are researching the state's historic landscapes, and, as state chairman Judith Dill says, helping "preserve South Carolina's legacy and important historic resources."

Their drawings and measurements and lists of species in gardens that are at least 50 years old will be archived by the S.C. Historical Society for future generations.

"We thought it would be so appropriate for Beaufort with the tricentennial celebration to document as many gardens as we could," said Norma Miller of Dataw Island, president of the Beaufort Council of Garden Clubs. In April, the council won a statewide award for its work on this project.

Earlier, the council documented the garden at the Berners Barnwell Sams House on the Green on Laurens Street. It's being restored by owners John W. and Molly Gray.

And they measured and platted the old live oaks at Cotton Hall Plantation near Yemassee, owned by Joe and Allyson Harden of Hilton Head. Unlike the original house, the oaks survived U.S. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's torch during the Civil War.

"We are very proud of those trees," said Allyson Harden. "I wish I could get them to talk."

In a way, that's what the garden club volunteers are trying to do, too.