One common thread when joining or reading about any Callawassie Island club is the opportunity to learn new things. This is especially true of the Garden Club, where any conversation is a veritable conservatory class and a farmer’s almanac of Lowcountry landscaping.
Growing nearly 25 years strong, the Garden Club began as a group of men and women who decided Callawassie needed an organization that would look out for the beautification and preservation of the island. Since then, according to former club president Wendy Hilty, “we’ve added the objective of educating the members. Since so many of us are from up north and have no idea what to do in the south, we need to teach people what to do for gardening in the Lowcountry, because you can grow spectacular things – different things than you can grow anywhere else. We just need to learn what those things are.” Enter, the Garden Club.
Before you even till the soil there’s plenty to see in the island’s collection of gardens and grounds. “Callawassie has 3 gardens,” Hilty says, “and among those, the club maintains the largest butterfly garden started twelve years ago by Graham and Linda Wood. They’re from England so they’re terrific gardeners,” she mentions with the sense that the two things are synonymous. One look at the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly trail and you would agree. The garden is certified by the North American Butterfly Association (naba.org). “The garden is filled with hundreds of butterflies – sometimes so many that you’re working in the garden and you have to shoo them way,” Hilty laughs as she begins explaining what draws such an abundance. “American prairie plants are the hottest thing in [butterfly] gardening right now; it’s all anyone can talk about. Fortunately, most of them are native to South Carolina – things like cornflowers and Black-eyed Susans. One non-native – Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia) – that has a wide-open blossom which pollinators like. They don’t like anything tight and closed or hard to get to unless they’re hummingbirds.”
Among other gardens, the Callawassie Island Chef has an herb garden he uses for the dining room, which the volunteers help cultivate (he also speaks at club gatherings on how to prolong plants’ shelf life in kitchens and homes and hosts herbally-themed luncheons utilizing members’ herbs), and Sugar Mill Park, a wonderful pace for photography. Keeping all of this up, they have over 140 members and 20 active volunteers maintaining gardens, planting, weeding, and in Hilty’s words, “keeping the butterflies a-comin’.”
Jan Hubbard puts this in the context of club happenings and participation. “We meet in the Clubhouse, have a brief business meeting, and usually have a guest speaker. Sometimes we go offsite and learn – one trip was going to an orchid greenhouse in Bluffton where they taught us how to take care of and transplant our orchids and keep these guys growing for a long time. One, I kept alive for an entire year,” Hubbard says pleased with both the orchid and with the club experience where they learned about soaking the pot in Superthrive once a week and letting it dry out.
“One of the things I’ve been doing with our island horticulturist,” Hilty adds, referencing an island-wide learning experience, “is a wildflower survey to see what we have here, as there are some beautiful things growing right along the edges of the golf course and the new cut-through pathway going from Spring Island Drive into the main area of the Clubhouse – so many beautiful wildflowers there. We’re going to safeguard those and add to them, preserving the natural beauty of Callawassie. And of course, we all have our personal gardens. We’re all pretty busy digging in the dirt.”
Hubbard takes the “personal garden” baton from there. “On a personal level, George and I moved here from Vermont and put in a small vegetable garden with blueberry bushes, herbs, and some seasonal vegetables, which was nice, but the climate was very different here obviously, hot and humid, and the soil so sandy, and you have to be very mindful of specific challenges like what the critters and bugs like to nibble. It’s actually a very big deal.”
“Hot and humid yes, the heat of summer is problematic,” Hilty picks up, “the worst time to plant is in the heat of summer. Early spring is good. Middle of October, plants are coming back again because you have cool nights and that gives everything an opportunity to grow. One of the unusual things I grow (at least I think it’s unusual, but they do very well) is English Roses. I have a number of varieties that I get actually from England. They are doing beautifully. They start blooming in March and they don’t stop blooming until January.”
What happens at this point in the conversation is the absolute beauty of the Callawassie Island Garden Club and its members’ personality and passion. From deer damage to rose reverence, the back and forth is interwoven like a knotted vine:
“Oh, those English Roses are beautiful.
Can I have a cutting from one of those?”
“Absolutely! …and Salvia. Salvia do extremely
well down here and they’re deer-resistant.”
“Does the English Rose
have a good scent?”
“Yes, because I buy David Austen.”
“So the deer don’t like Salvia?”
“They hate Salvia!”
“See? I just learned something.”
“They don’t like Salvia because it’s got a strong,
minty flavor to it… lavender, rosemary, and …”
“Society garlic! That’s a good barrier plant.”
“It IS a good barrier plant, again – something
I learned gardening in the Lowcountry….”
Hubbard continues, “Lots of people don’t have any experience but want to learn about gardening in the Lowcountry which is a challenge but wonderful too. By trial and error, by doing, you learn a lot about what’s going to work down here and what’s not, what plants animals like to eat and what to do about that.”
Not only trial and error personally but hearing from others who have been learning from experience in the area for years. One regional guest that Hilty recalled “speaking on how to put together a rain garden, because there are always drainage issues in the south with our heavy rainfall, and rain gardens are a wonderful way to keep that heavy moisture from flowing into our rivers and streams, and have it go into the earth and grow some really cool plants.”
Garden Club experts can help you find what to plant and when making it less of a risk to get out of your ecological comfort zone. “
Every year I try new things,” Hubbard says comfortably, giving credit to the club and to what she’s learned from knowledgeable members and former club leaders like Hilty. “I’m trying to establish a lot of perennials mixed in with annuals but focused on perennials because they come back year after year and grow like crazy. That’s the beauty of perennials.”
Making the most of what they grow, one club meeting incorporated a flower shop owner from Beaufort who showed not only how to make small centerpieces out of things from members’ gardens and from the island, but also how to remove and add things to extend the life of and change the look the piece.
Hilty mentions one last faction adding, “because one of the main goals is island beautification, we hold a fundraiser every other year with an auction that is extremely well attended. We make thousands in proceeds that are then put back into the island; the latest benefitting the River Club landscaping.”
“The Garden Club connects Callawassie through what we are standing on – this incredible property of nature; everything abounds here,” Hilty says, tying the club mission into the Callawassie brand and heart. “Growing is living. We appreciate the balance that we have between being able to live here and enjoy nature and the responsibility of keeping it pristine as we’ve been learning a lot lately on ecology and environmental issues. It’s such an education to be a member of this club.”
To find about more about what to plant in your gardens or how to plant yourself in the Callawassie Island Garden Club, check out the Callawassie Island Garden Club Facebook or learn more online at Garden Club | Callawassie Island.
Learn more about the clubs and events at Callawassie Island here!