Please let my buddy out. We want to dig in your garden!
The Gullah people of South Carolina have two great words for newcomers and natives of the area – Comyas and Binyas. Comyas are people who come from away and there are many of us who have escaped the frozen north to move here. Binyas have been here for more than just while – 150 years or so. Certainly the Gullah have every right to be called “Binyas.” This is their land in so many ways and their unique culture enriches the newcomers to the Lowcountry.
I am certainly a Comya. I moved here from Cleveland and before that I lived in Boston for 43 years. There is not a trace of the South in my speech. While I have learned to like Duke’s Mayonaise and White Lily flour, I still cherish my lobster and Indian pudding. When it comes to gardening though, I have had to adapt to the Southern ways and the many challenges.
What does it take to garden in South Carolina’s Lowcountry? Well, to begin with you must have a sense of humor. You also need to wear many hats:
You must be a Civil Engineer. Every year I put down 20 bags of compost only to have much of it wash away during one of our torrential rainstorms. Where does it go? Darned if I know. My lawn looks pretty good though so it might wash onto it, what little there is of it. Our drainage is hampered by clay soil and wash outs are frequent. So I construct little channels, edging devices, and rock battens to try to keep the soil in place. The next storm, the water (and topsoil) will no doubt find another route, but I carry on constructing, earth moving, and damning up potential streams.
You must be a Wildlife Manager. There seems to always be some sort of creature in the garden. It might be benign like a small anole lizard or it could be an alligator enjoying the sunshine. Armadillos love to dig for grubs in flower beds, snakes like to hide under shrubs, and tree frogs seem to take delight in jumping down the front of your shirt. Those sticky little feet feel very weird. I spend a lot of time trimming up shrubs to 12” above the ground to prevent hiding places or at least to give me a clear view of what might be lurking.
You must be a Chemist. Welcome to the wonderful world of NPK and all the other trace elements present (or not) in our rather unique soil. Usually, we have lots of phosphorous since it was mined here in the past. Nitrogen? Hope for a lightning strike. Potassium? Oh, yes, you might need that, or not. A soil test will tell you what you have and what you need, but you will need to call up your 11th grade Chemistry class notes to figure it all out.
You need to be a Funeral Director/Grief Counselor. Plants will die! Patience will be needed as well as a certain toughness of mind and the ability to let go. Do not get too attached to anything. You must remind yourself that a dead plant can become good compost (perhaps to be washed away in the next storm -- the never ending cycle of Lowcountry life)
Having said all this, gardening in the Lowcountry can be very rewarding. How fun to post Facebook or Instagram photos of flowers in December to the envy of your Northern friends! Spring comes in February with the first yellow masses of Carolina Jessamine in bloom. I often shoveled snow in April in Boston.
I am hoping that this Blog will give you some insights, ideas, and practical tips to make Lowcountry gardening a more fun and enjoyable. A little hand holding and mentoring can go a long way!