By William Thrift
For most gardeners, summer mornings are spent on the Sisyphean tasks of eradicating weeds that have grown up overnight, battling insects with all weapons at your disposal, and then dousing everything with water to keep your precious plants from succumbing to the sun god. When you come back inside to that refreshing blast from the air conditioner, your clothes sticking to you like Titanic artifacts from the icy Atlantic, maybe you feel the need to reach out to a kindred spirit and share the joys of growing. Maybe you’ve just encountered an alien horde munching on your tender new leaves and you want to know what they are and how to kill them. Maybe you’re just curious – you want to satisfy your inner Linnaeus and learn more about what’s growing in your yard. Whatever your reason, summer is a good time to sit somewhere cool (in front of your home computer or at the library, for instance) and peruse planting-oriented organizations and resources. While the following is by no means an exhaustive list of what’s available out there, hopefully it will pique your interests and foster some ideas that lead you to a more fulfilling gardening experience.
Riverbanks Botanical Garden is a premier place to get inspired and educated. In addition to wandering through the beautifully maintained garden (like a kid in a candy store), you can get more out of it by taking a class. Recent subjects have included bonsai, irrigation, and containers, and are taught by expert horticulturalists. You can visit riverbanks.org, or just hop in the car and plain old visit!
The Columbia Garden Club was founded in 1926, and promotes a love of gardening among amateurs, civic beautification, and conservation of native flora and birds. Their exclusive galas are not only great places to see and be seen, but also feature plant displays and arrangements by local growers and florists. For more information, visit columbiagardenclub.com.
The Master Gardener program is active across the country and was begun to assist Cooperative Extensions in helping local gardeners with questions, problems, or just general information. The South Carolina Master Gardener Program was started in 1981 and is sponsored by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. The program concentrates on instruction – where potential MG’s are classroom-trained on a wide variety of horticultural topics, and service – where participants donate time educating and helping others. After passing exams, participants receive the title of “Clemson Extension Master Gardener.” If you aspire to become formally trained and impart your knowledge to others, check out clemson.edu/extension.
Once you become a Master Gardener, you’ll want to join the South Carolina Midlands Master Gardeners Association. It provides continuing education to members, and promotes interest in the art and science of gardening. Their classes and seminars provide timely, helpful information to residents of Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, and Richland counties. Visit their website to learn more: scmmga.org.
It would be hard to miss the impact that Columbia Green has had on the beautification of our city. Everyone enjoys their landscaped medians all around town including Elmwood, Rosewood, Jackson Boulevard, and the Gonzales Monument Island. Among many other projects, they are working with the Historic Columbia Foundation to revitalize gardens at the Robert Mills and Seibels Houses. To learn how you can support them, visit columbiagreen.org.
If you yearn to grow, but just don’t have the space, let Columbia help you. At columbiasc.net/communitygardens, you can learn the various locations around town where citizens can lease a 5’ x 12’ plot of land to grow their own fruits, veggies, or flowers. The city provides soil, compost, and water – you bring the plants and labor! Neighborhood groups can participate and it’s a great teaching opportunity for kids.
The Mid-Carolina Camellia Society is part of the American Camellia Society, which was founded in Macon, Georgia, to celebrate the evergreen beauty of camellias by educating and informing members on showing, growing, and cultivating them. Learn more at camellias-acs.com.
Call yourself a naturalist. The South Carolina Native Plant Society, founded in 1996, promotes awareness and education of native plant species and their importance in South Carolina landscape and history. The Midlands chapter hosts field trips among other activities. Learn more at scnps.org.
If the complete cycle of life is your thing, you may want to entice Lepidopterans to your yard. The Midlands chapter of the Carolina Butterfly Society emphasizes identifying and watching butterflies in the field and garden, rather than collecting them. They sponsor butterflying field trips in the Carolinas and provide advice on butterfly gardening. Visit carolinabutterflysociety.org for more information.
“And here’s to our state flower…”
Yellow Jessamine is not just a beautiful covering for a chain-link fence. Since the vine sap and nectar contain toxins, deer regularly shun it (funny how they know…). When planted on fencing surrounding fruits, veggies and other plants, deer tend to avoid the area entirely, moving on to what they consider less dangerous foraging. To celebrate this and the many other positive aspects of yellow jessamine, the North Augusta Cultural Arts Council hosts an annual springtime art festival aptly dubbed the Yellow Jessamine Festival.
One of our city’s most ubiquitous shrubs.
The Azalea Society of America was founded in 1979 to promote and improve knowledge and interest in azaleas; including, but not limited to, cultivation and hybridization techniques. Learn more at azaleas.org. On a similar note, the American Rhododendron Society (rhododendron.org) meets at the Macmillan Greenhouse on the UNC-Charlotte campus on the 4th Sunday every month between September and April (excluding