Master Gardener Trip
to Savannah and Charleston

October 2-13, 2002

Some very pleased Texas Master Gardeners returned from their visit to famous Southern landmarks and gardens to report that the tour was everything - and more - they had expected. Dr. Doug Welsh, State Master Gardener Coordinator, led the group to Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. He is a faculty member specializing in landscape water management and xeriscape in the Texas A&M University Department of Horticulture. He is editor of the award-winning Texas Master Gardener Handbook and co-author of the book Xeriscape Gardening - Water Conservation for the American Landscape.

Typical Low Country brackish marsh
Typical Low Country brackish marsh

The tour gave participants a rare opportunity to view at close range some of the most admired private landscapes, classic plantations and early homes immortalized in the history of the American South. During this experience they received excellent firsthand didactic instruction in both the history and landscape architecture of the South from curators, family descendants, Historical Commission members, local Master Gardeners and experienced tour guides. The Charleston Flower Show was not only a good horticultural experience but could serve as a model for potential Texas exhibitions.

Summerhouse, Beaufort, SC
Summerhouse, Beaufort, SC

  Texas Master Gardeners had opportunities to visit at length with the Master Gardeners of the Beaufort, Savannah and Charleston region, characterized by coastal conditions, warm temperatures and exposure to saline influences that greatly influence plant life. A good exchange of information between Master Gardener/Extension personnel groups is both stimulating and educational. Many mentioned bringing back new insights and enjoyed the exposure to unfamiliar landscape challenges and horticultural adaptations and the solutions derived from these interchanges.

Water feature, McGee garden
Water feature, McGee garden

The tour group enjoyed secret gardens, elegant homes, magnificent plantations, hidden alleys, and quaint, cobblestone streets as they walked through restored historic areas.

'Tabbywork' was a construction mixture of lime, oystershell and sand
'Tabbywork' was a construction mixture of lime, oystershell and sand

Private Gardens - There were many opportunities to tour and photograph private gardens on the trip. In Beaufort the group visited a garden only a few feet from tidal marshes as well as the very well known garden of Frances and Milton Parker. In Charleston Dr. Bill Welch's friend Mary Martha Blalock led the group through several excellent private gardens including that of Patty and Peter McGee, through the historical district, and finally over to the annual Charleston Flower Show. Pat Ryan, a Master Gardener who hosted the Spring N.O. G.S. tour "Hidden Gardens" was the guide for private gardens in the Savannah area. Pat Tuttle, creator of the book tour based on Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, led the historic home and church tour. Pat is a native Savannahian and has been featured in Southern Living and on the NBC Today Show and CNN Television.

Classic home of Milton & Frances Parker, Beaufort, SC
Classic home of Milton & Frances Parker, Beaufort, SC

In Savannah, Master Gardeners saw The Juliette Gordon Lowe Center, the beautifully restored family home of the founder of the Girl Scouts and the Green-Meldrim House, once headquarters for General Sherman, and famous for its elaborate ironwork. Today it serves as a parish house and is owned by St. John's Episcopal Church.

The Owens-Thomas House, which takes up an entire block on one of the squares, was next. It is considered one of the finest examples of English regency architecture in the country. The home, with its columned entrance portico and brass inlaid staircase was designed by architect William Jay. The carriage house is one of the earliest intact urban slave quarters in the South and opens into an English-inspired parterre garden.

English/French formal parterre style enclosed garden
English/French formal parterre style enclosed garden

The Isaiah Davenport House was largely responsible for the preservation of Savannah's national treasure, the Historic District. When developers came to demolish the house in the 1950's, a group of local women banded together to stop it. They later formed the Historic Savannah Foundation.

The Wormsloe Historic Site lies out of town and was visited by bus. It is situated on a forested peninsula surrounded by coastal marshes and a breathtaking mile long avenue bordered by live oaks and Confederate earthworks, leading to the ruins of Wormsloe established in 1737 by Noble Jones. The site includes a plantation house built in 1828, a detached library and the ruins of a fortified house. Wormsloe was Noble Jones' country estate where he tested his horticultural interests. The two story frame house on the eastern side of the road on the drive down the avenue of the oaks is home to the ninth generation of Jones' descendants. It is usually closed to the public, but the owners very kindly invited the group in for a closer inspection of house and library and a insider's view of local history.

The Ships of the Sea Museum, housed in the William Scarbrough House, is home to the largest garden within the historic district of Savannah. The design of the garden is derived from a typical 19th century parlor garden. The displays of annual plants in this garden are famous. Careful attention has been paid to the plant material and surface materials. With a few exceptions, all plant material is native or has been available since the early to mid 1800's. Seasonal changes keep the garden alive with surprises.

The Charleston Fall Garden Show stepped 'back in time' this year. Throughout the exhibit hall, guests found vignettes depicting the contributions of important Charleston botanists from 1720 through 1860. The Garden Show gave guests an appreciation of the plants and historic gardens of the Low Country.

Savannah's Bonaventure Cemetery, site of
Savannah's Bonaventure Cemetery, site of "Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil"

Cypress Gardens offered our tour visitors the rare experience of being one with nature. The Gardens were originally part of Dean Hall Plantation, one of Cooper River's most important rice plantations. In 1909, the plantation was purchased by Benjamin R. Kittredge, who cleared trails in the swamp and planted thousands of azaleas, camellias, tea olives, winter daphne and daffodils. The Gardens were given to Berkeley County in 1996 and they have added the Butterfly House, Fresh Water Aquarium Reptile Center and Aviary, an Antique Rose Garden and Daylily Display Garden.

Our tour members certainly enjoyed hearing about Boone Hall and Gardens from Bill Welch's friend, the well-known Ruth Knopf. As they walked through the oak avenue, they realized that Captain Thomas Boone had left a touch overshadowing that of any other owner. He planted live oak trees in two evenly spaced rows. The avenue was so wide that it would take two centuries for the massive branches to meet overhead, forming a natural cathedral nave. The formal gardens reflect the English acestry of Major John Boone. The ancient serpentine brick walls and herringbone patterned walks wind through beds of hundreds of varieties of camellias and azaleas. Each year thousands of brilliant bulbs and other flowering plants are added to the formal garden. The ABC-TV Novel for Television North and South I and II were both filmed at Boone Hall Plantation.

Mepkin Abbey & Botanical Garden are situated within a living monastic community. Their commitment ensures that Mepkin will always provide sacred space, helping people to gain a renewed sense of self-awareness, tranquility and joy. This garden honors all those who have lived and died and were buried on this land - the Native American, Henry Laurens, colonial era owner of the plantation, the African Americans who worked the plantation rice fields, and Clare Booth and Henry Luce, twentieth century leaders in publishing and philanthropy.

Elaborate ironwork - feature of the Historical District
Elaborate ironwork - feature of the Historical District

Middleton Place Plantationis one of South Carolina's most enduring icons. This National Historic Landmark has history, drama and beauty. For over two and a half centuries, these graciously landscaped gardens have enchanted visitors from all over the world. It is noted for 'garden rooms' laid out with precise symmetry and balance. The gardens represent the Low Country's most spectacular and articulate expression of an 18th century ideal - the triumphant marriage between man and nature. The Middleton Place House and working Plantation Stableyards will also be on view. Craftspeople demonstrate the skills performed by slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. A typical Low Country dinner was also enjoyed by the tour group.

'Everlasting' tree ferns in the cemetery
'Everlasting' tree ferns in the cemetery

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is Charleston's premier plantation, founded in 1676. The House is a southern classic with elegant, columned porch and extensive collection of heirlooms and museum-quality antiques. The tour walked through the oldest major garden in America, continually planted since the 1680's and affording year-round color. Tour members were impressed with the size of the massive old camellias. There was also a ride on the Nature Train, a 45-minute tramride of the Plantation's diverse landscapes while guides described plantation history, wildlife and extensive flora and fauna. A boatride gave up-close views of alligators, herons, galinules and anhingas. Woodduck nesting boxes of aged, greying planks hung heavily with Spanish moss have been placed on tree stumps in the shallow, swampy areas. Our guide explained that when he first became an employee there, he was told those were the "employee suggestion boxes."

Assembled Group
Assembled Group

A number of the tour members rented a car to take them to the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah during their leisure time so that they could examine the ancient stones and inscriptions and take photos to their hearts' content.

The Coastal Master Gardeners group very kindly hosted the tour group for a reception as well as a shrimp boil on two separate occasions. This was a special treat.
Join Us - in the Garden of Good & Evil
Join Us - in the Garden of Good & Evil



Tour included: 5 nights in the Charleston Historical District; 5 nights in Savannah in the Historical District; many meals; motor coach transportation for most tours; Savannah Harbor cruise with dinner and a farewell dinner in Savannah.

The trip was organized by Linda Cook, Utopia Tours, Tomball, Tx 1-281-259-0246, fax 1-281-259-2773. 28510-C State Highway 249 - No. 124, Tomball, TX 77375, e-mail: <utopia@pdq.net>.

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