Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"There's something in these hills" - The South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson University


South Carolina Botanical Garden entrance - Clemson University

“There's something in these hills . . . the ability of an institution through the unending dedication and greatness of its people — its administration, its faculty, its staff, its students and its alumni — to impart to all it touches a respect, an admiration, an affection that stand firm in disquieting times when things around it give impressions of coming unglued… Yes, there's something in these hills where the Blue Ridge yawns its greatness.
— Joe Sherman, Clemson University, Class of 1934, Director of Public and Alumni Relations

Sherman’s words, written in 1969, are as relevant today as they were then. The story of Clemson University is, to state the obvious, an inspiring one. The people and the place have made it so.
The place, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was the site of Fort Rutledge, built in 1776. The fort was the idea of  General Andrew Williamson who was in command of the colonial forces in the area during the Revolutionary War. Williamson requested Governor John Rutledge for money to erect a defensive fort against British forces and allied Cherokees. His request was granted, probably because he promised to name the fort in honor of the governor.

The property was later owned by the John E. Calhoun family and descendants, who worked it as the Fort Hill Plantation.  In 1888, Thomas G. Clemson, the widower of Calhoun heiress, Anna Maria Calhoun, honored his wife’s desires and willed the property for the establishment of an agricultural college. The college opened in 1893 as an all-male military academy, later became co-educational, and eventually attained university status.

Part of Clemson’s story includes that of the South Carolina Botanical Garden. The garden began in 1958 as a camellia preserve adjacent to the Calhoun plantation, and has since grown to include over 295 acres of landscaped gardens and woodlands.  With so much to see, I recommend that you geta map online and print it off, or from the Hanson Discovery Center.  A paved drive leads to it from the main entrance.  While you’re there, you should take in the Campbell Geology Museum, which is landscaped to resemble a western mine. The Discovery Center and Geology Museum were closed the day I visited, but I thoroughly enjoyed walking around, viewing mineral displays, cacti and succulents in arid settings, manicured landscapes and container gardens.

The main parking lot on Pearman Boulevard provides a fine overlook of the Heritage Gardens. The Heritage Garden introduces visitors to the history of Clemson, principally its years as a military school, through a series of bronze reliefs and plaques within the Golden Tigers and Class of ’42 Cadet Life Garden. The complex includes trellised walkways, an amphitheater, and the colorful Caboose Garden (Class of ’39), dominated by a restored train caboose.

From there, visitors can meander through woodland gardens and landscaped open spaces via a system of winding trails. Informative signs mark the sections and give insight into the purposeful designs. Most of the gardens seem to have been partially funded by patrons, whose names they bear.
Near the entrance, the Hopkins Wildlife Habitat Garden displays plants and planting combinations that one might use, even in a home landscape, to provide food, water and shelter for wildlife. It’s a great place for children to watch for little creatures.

The Flower Display Garden is certain to provide ideas for the home landscape. Carefully planned combinations of annuals, perennials, shrubs and ornamental trees are delightful and thought-provoking.

The nearby Miller Dwarf Conifer Collection displays lovely cultivars that could easily be included in suburban gardens. Similarly, the adjacent Van Blaricom Xeriscape Garden demonstrates within its attractive panorama how to xeriscape, i.e. to landscape with plants, such as sedum, that have low moisture requirements.

The South Carolina Botanical Garden began as a camellia collection near what is now the football field. It was moved to its present location on the banks of a duck pond. The Camellia Trail is best visited from November through April when they are in bloom. Unfortunately, I visited the Camellia Trail in summer, but the scenery was pleasant.

From the camellia collection, the trail winds downhill to cross the Earthen Bridge. The bridge serves not only to cross a small stream by the duck pond, but as a functional sculpture.

Within the botanical garden is the historic Hanover House, and the Heirloom Vegetable Garden behind it. The Hanover House (circa 1716) was originally situated in Berkeley County, SC and was the home of French Huguenot, Paul de St. Julien. Threatened with being inundated by the waters of Lake Moultrie in 1914, it was moved to the Clemson campus. Ironically, much of Clemson’s campus was also threatened later with inundation by the creation of Lake Hartwell by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Education is at the heart of the South Carolina Botanical Garden, and it certainly extends to young children. Several gardens located in close proximity meet their needs: the Peter Rabbit Garden, Butterfly Garden, Ethnobotany Garden, Food for Thought Garden, and Pollinator Border. I loved them all, and admired the creative minds of designers who were able even to make a large propane tank look like it belonged.

The trail system continues through woodlands, over small streams, and to nature-based sculptures such as The Crucible. One might come upon it without a map in hand and think it’s a historic relic, perhaps a source of water for Cherokee people or early settlers who lived nearby. In a sense it is a historic relic, but not so old. The Crucible was installed in 1995 by sculptor Herb Parker.

Natural Dialogue is another nature-based sculpture that you should visit. Stop to think.

My wanderings eventually brought me to the Hunt Cabin (circa 1826). It originally stood near Seneca, SC, but, when threatened with demolition, was moved to the Clemson campus in 1935. The setting is appropriate, and seems original. You’ll get a glimpse of 19th century life, and read about the hospitality that was shown there, even to scoundrels like William T. Sherman (not related to Joe, I hope).

Returning to my vehicle, I strolled through the Charles and Betty Cruickshank Hosta Garden, taking lots of pictures as I went.  Hostas are among the most popular perennials in American gardens. The Cruickshank Hosta Garden is an official American Hosta Society Display Garden, so you’ll see plenty of them. Keep your camera clicking as you examine some you might want for your own perennial border.

These highlights are but a few of the many you can enjoy in the South Carolina Botanical Garden. Though there were plenty of visitors exploring the grounds, I appreciated the much needed sense of serenity that we often need “in disquieting times” when the world seems like it’s “coming unglued.” Yes, “there’s something in these hills” for you.

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