Nearby gardens meet great expectations.

View of Biltmore “castle” from South TerraceThe best New Year’s resolution you could possibly make for 2009 is to plan a trip, or several, to visit some of the outstanding gardens available within a day’s drive from Hilton Head Island.

These include three of the most renowned public gardens, not only in the Southeast, but in the entire country.

This is not to recommend a one-day round trip, because an overnight stay is necessary to fully enjoy the experience, although you can easily reach your destination in a day.

Late blooming pentas.'Tis the time of year for reflection while we can still remember what was a success or failure, what was a wonderful surprise or what was a disappointment.

Then in January we can face forward confidently with a little background information to help us make every month and year in the garden more satisfying than the last. Isn’t that the goal after all, as Katharine White famously wrote in “Onward and Upward in the Garden”? A short list of standouts from the year just past would have to include “Knockout” roses, the new shrub rose and glamour girl of the rose community.

The colors are indeed “knockout,” breathtaking in their floriferous beauty Almost everything about them as promised in catalogues is true - that is, resistance to powdery mildew, blackspot, rust, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, rose midge, drought, humidity and everything else the Lowcountry can throw at them, (except deer).

Successful container plantings require a focal point.

Cordyline australis with pansies. Purchase Cordyline australis as opposed to Cordyline baueri because the latter grows much too large for any container.What makes a single plant the center of attraction?Is it color, form, height, uniqueness, or a bit of attitude?

Well, all of the above, but not necessarily at one and the same time.

A container wants a variety of plant material, either blending, contrasting or both, but the center plant is the one that will focus the attention for either good or bad.

The first consideration should probably be height as that will determine the relationship or proportion of the plantings to the container. It is important that the ratio be pleasing — that the height and mass of the plants be neither too small nor too large for the container.

Springtime tradescantia bloomWho invited them?

The title does not refer to weeds. Weeds are easily recognized for what they are and are not trying to fool you into believing otherwise. The barbarians, on the contrary, appear opulently cloaked and disguised to gain entrance into your garden. And the worst of it is that you invited them, providing space and opportunity to thrive! Thenceforth they are harder to be rid of than the legendary man who came to dinner. For the most part they are introduced through the pages of glossy catalogues emanating from everywhere except the South. Or maybe a garden tour of Europe raised expectations of what is possible in the Lowcountry. It is not news that, in the garden anyway, hope springs eternal.

At the top of this villainous list is the oft-touted Virginia creeper, praised for its stunning fall color adorning walls in England. If you fall for this blandishment, you will never be totally rid of it, as it pops up everywhere but never develops the promised fall color. Every excursion through your grounds will give you an opportunity to pluck out some of it. Well, you say, this is not England after all, but the Lowcountry of South Carolina, so how could one be so foolish?

Good bones make good gardens.

Whether one is aware or not, when a gardener plans and plants a garden he is undertaking to compose a picture, in other words, a work of art; and a work of art is always enhanced by a frame, which focuses and presents it to best advantage. This is usually not initially considered, and the result may be a rapid bleeding of the planting scheme into surrounding areas, diminishing and scattering its beauty. This is where the sometimes misunderstood term, hardscape or “bones” of the garden, comes in. “Bones” is merely an expression of a framework to enhance the plantings, to provide access to movement among them with ease and pleasure, and to connect the house with its grounds.

Paths, edgings and walls are the main elements to lend definition and pattern, while also providing a sense of place and focus. Since walls of any sort are generally discouraged on Hilton Head Island, the hardscape most frequently considered will be that of paths and edgings. It is much easier to plan and plant a space that has dedicated limitations, thus clearly revealing what, where and how much you have to work with and furnish. Furthermore, permanent edgings prevent grass and the inevitable drift of pine straw and/ or oak leaves from blurring the lines.

To Gild the Lily.

LARGE WHITE URN IN GARDENGarden ornament is a very wide-ranging and subjective garden concern, ranging from, “why do you need it anyway, aren’t plants enough?”, thence all the way from monumental manifestations of classical sculpture to the cherished flamingo of South Florida or the more humble whitewashed tire planted with petunias of the rural South. It is also a very personal concern reflecting its owners’ tastes, habits and sense of place.

But gardeners on Hilton Head Island will probably prefer the simpler rather than the more elaborate expression, due mostly to smaller garden capacity to begin with, plus the desire that their garden space reflect in some sense the “spirit of the place,” which is a barrier island on a Southern coast. This narrows the possibilities somewhat but by no means excludes or denies the individual desires of the creative soul.

The cut stops here.

CONEFLOWER BLOOM AFTER PINCHING"The object of pruning is to control and direct growth, to improve health, to increase bloom, (or fruit) production and to shape
aesthetically. It should be done in a timely manner, not postponed until the day you confront the jungle that used to be your yard – which is your expensive landscape.

It is understood that spring blooming shrubs, particularly azaleas, must be pruned as soon as practicable after blooming in order to use the new growing season to produce buds for next year’s flowers. In the case of azaleas, wherever you cut you gain three new shoots for next spring’s display.

Deciduous woody shrubs such as forsythia, spiraea and flowering quince fall into this category. They should be renovated every spring by cutting to the ground the oldest, thickest stems, enabling new shoots to develop with access to light, air and water. Crowded, thick and crossing stems are injurious to the plant’s health, appearance and flower production.

Tips and references for the perfect garden.

SHEILA’S PERFUME, FLORIBUNDA, VERY FRAGRANT.It’s June and the subject is roses- although in the Lowcountry that can be backed up to May, when the first flush of bloom appears.

Roses are ubiquitous because they are irresistible and rose lore and literature are legion. One can explore cyberspace indefinitely and read massive manuals on rose care, propagation and history, but far and away the best way to experiences roses is an up close and personal encounter at Bob and Sandy Lundberg s magnificent display garden in Rose Hill. The garden contains 440 show quality rose bushes, meticulously tended to by the couple- both dedicated rosarians.

Sights and serenity at the All Saints Episcopal Church Garden Tour.

Brantley Residence – 2007 Tour.Ten precious and private Edens are on display for your pleasure on May 17, the traditional third Saturday in May during the annual All Saints Episcopal Church Garden Tour, now in its 21st year. Since Hilton Head Island is described by some as “paradise,” it is only fitting that a church should invite you to experience so many versions of Eden.

This year’s tour ranges from Sea Pines to River Bend in the neighborhood of Sun City, with stops in between at Port Royal Plantation, Hilton Head Plantation and Spanish Pointe, off Spanish Wells Road. This year, gardens are grouped largely in the two areas of Sea Pines and Port Royal Plantations, making it easier and more efficient to navigate the entire tour. Gardens will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Big, bold and beautiful.

CANNA JOURNEY’S ENDThough we’re all familiar with the fabled lilies of the field, which neither toil nor spin, yet are arrayed more gloriously than Solomon, here we are concerned with something even more... dare it be said? ... gaudy. The extravagant color combinations of caladiums, as well as the once despised cannas are both showy and satisfying – the former for shade, the latter for sun. You can have the best of both possible garden worlds when you plant these two winners, for both dependable beauties deserve a place in every Lowcountry landscape.

They are here referred to as “the bulbs LIEoSf summer” because they do not come into their own until full summer – but then they go on and on into the fall.