David Lauderdale

Lauderdale: Four secrets -- and one champion -- to gardening and Lowcountry beauty

Betsy Jukofsky
Betsy Jukofsky

Who would ever dream of such an odd thing -- having a xeriscape garden named for you?

It happened for Betsy Jukofsky on Tuesday evening when the Hilton Head Island Town Council approved the motion by mayor pro tem Bill Harkins.

And just like that, a lifetime of toiling with plants and helping others understand them will be honored at the Betsy Jukofsky Xeriscape Interpretive Garden at Town Hall.

For more than 30 years, Betsy has answered our vexing plant questions and urged us to be advocates for nature and beauty in her column in our newspaper.

But now she's slowing down, trying to figure out what one who has always stopped to smell the roses does with her time. Earlier this year, Betsy lost her soulmate of 65 years, Dr. Larry Jukofsky, her chief plant mover and photographer. Now her son, Michael, is responsible for the little lady who would never follow the crowd.

When I visited Betsy not long ago she was squealing like a child at her birthday present from Larry: a shiny, red mulcher. Her place in Hilton Head Plantation looked like a jungle. No blinding green grass and neat swoops of store-bought pinestraw was to be found in her yard. But she knew each of her hundreds of plants, and seemed to find joy in reciting the quirks of their personalities.

Betsy was honored on Sunday as well when the Island Beautification Association and the Hilton Head Island Council of Garden Clubs sponsored a surprise roast and toast to recognize her contributions to the herb society, master gardeners, native plant society and Hilton Head Island Land Trust.

She helped revive the xeriscape garden in 2013. It is to promote the conservation of water. It is to promote gardening with a minimum of maintenance. And it is to preserve native plants and show newcomers what they ought to be planting, and how and where and why.

If anyone actually dreamed of such a thing as a child, perhaps it was Betsy. Her mother and grandmother -- both gardeners and suffragettes -- traveled with a bucket and trowel so they could take slips of this and that to root and transplant. Her parents donated the 56-acre Zahorsky Woods Nature Preserve at Wildwood Springs Lodge in Missouri to honor her grandparents. Her daughter, Diane, who traveled from Oregon for the roast and toast, is vice president of the Rainforest Alliance who wrote the "Encyclopedia of Rainforests."

If the Lowcountry is to reap the seeds Betsy has sown for lo these many years, here are four of her secrets to gardening:

  • Beauty takes many hands. It took scores of people to make the xeriscape garden. It has taken many people to make such a thing even matter here. Hilton Head Islanders all cling to the coattails of Beany Newhall, Nancy Cathcart, Orion Hack, Alva Cunningham, Todd Ballantine, Carl Wellard, Barry Lowes, Betty MacDonald, Ed Drane, Bill Murrell, Jack Henry, Pearl Fraser and Robert Marvin, to name a few.
  • Beauty is hard work. Betsy says people often say how disappointed they are with their yards. They assumed in this climate it would be bursting with color year-round. She tells them they can't have color in their yard and go away in the summer, or winter.
  • It's getting warmer. Hilton Head's plant hardiness zone has evolved from Zone 8 to Zone 9, Betsy says.

And then there is her best piece of advice for many of us:

"If a plant dies, try again. Don't give up."

Follow columnist and senior editor David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale and facebook.com/david.lauderdale.16.

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