Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Landscaping With Native Plants On Spring Island

Coastal South Carolina is dotted with secluded island hammocks.  Many of them are pristine, or appear so.  Spring Island, near Beaufort and Hilton Head, is one.  The history of Spring Island is a fascinating tale of Indians, traders, antebellum life, Northern magnates and modern development, not unlike most of the Low-country.  But Spring Island is unique.  Carefully developed to preserve its natural beauty and seclusion, it's easy for the visitor to believe that nothing much has changed since the 1920s.

We arranged to meet with Thomas Angell of Verdant Enterprises, LLC. for a morning tour of a few of his projects on the island.  Thomas specializes in native plants, creative storm water management and imaginative landscape detailing with custom hardscape construction.

As we traveled down picturesque allees lined with magnificent live oaks, we were practically unaware of nearby residences screened from view by dense native plant growth.  Discrete address plaques barely hinted at what was hidden and growing behind those verdant garden walls.

Our first stop was at the residence of one of the area's leading proponents and experts of natural landscaping.  Unfortunately, she was away and unable to meet with us.  Thomas explained that her home was carefully sited to preserve the magnificent trees on the property, as well as to afford a splendid view of the river and marsh.  The structures do not appear to be imposed on the river bank, but to grow in harmony from it, surrounded by such local beauties as wax myrtle (Myrica cyrifera) and needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix).

Both back and front of the home were beautifully landscaped exclusively with native species.  (You should know that the front of every waterfront home faces the water.  Arrival by land is through the back door. Whether through the front or back door, scrape your boots or shed them.)

An ancient oak provided shelter to blood-root (Sanguinaria canadensis), wild ginger (Asarum virginicum), trillium (T. maculatum), jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), partridge berry (Mitchella repens), along with colonies of native grasses and ferns.

I was surprised to see the blood-root, wild ginger, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, and indian pink, but Thomas informed me that they are actually native to the area.  Botanist and nurseryman, Daniel Payne, owner of NatureScapes Of Beaufort, confirmed it.  Daniel arrived on site unexpectedly to inspect and maintain some of the plantings.  As we walked about, Daniel explained that Beaufort County is one of the most biologically diverse counties in South Carolina, and perhaps in the Southeast, with over 1597 naturally occurring native plant species inventoried to date.

The natural design was "civilized" with some of Thomas's hardscape detailing.  A local soft stone called hardpan was quarried for benches of serpentine or semi-circular patterns.  Because of its porosity, the hardpan was topped with laminated wood seating created by a regional craftsman.

As we toured the site, I commented on a native plant that, so far as I know, is never used elsewhere.  The common names are Devil's Grandmother or Elephant's Foot (Elephantopus tomentosus).  But Thomas had used it quite effectively.  The foliage is attractive, the flowers are charming, and, of course, it grows like a weed.  We agreed that sustainable landscaping using native materials requires that we try to see things through new eyes.  It's really not that difficult or new to see things afresh; all non-native ornamentals were originally weeds from elsewhere.

The owner, Thomas and Daniel had established a display garden nearby with various other native species, and a few regional "heirloom" plants on trial.  A "midden" constructed for the garden rose above a dry stream bed designed to collect and direct storm water to a bog garden.  A pool with flowing water provided habitat for native fresh-water aquatic plants, and also created a refreshing oasis of sight and sound.

Native landscaping involves philosophical discussion.  For example, one might wonder whether or when a native plant should be considered desirable.  Such is the case in this garden with poison ivy.  The typical reaction to poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is to eradicate it.  But Daniel noted one specimen on the river bank which he allowed to remain.  The foliage, he explained, is quite colorful and attractive in the fall while the towering plant provides habitat and the seeds provide food for wildlife.  It grows at some distance from foot paths.  But then, the birds drop the seeds about the landscape to propagate more.  There comes a point when enough is enough and the solution calls for a squirt of herbicide.

Thomas was curious to take a look at some other projects he had completed several years ago.  A quick look now would prepare him for upcoming appointments with the owners.  It was disappointing to see that the plantings had not been properly maintained.  In my opinion, they demonstrated a lack of sensitivity on the part of some maintenance crews, or perhaps a lack of knowledge which can be remedied.  Expanses of lovely native grasses had been mowed like sod.  Soft cushions of billowing shrubs had been flattened at breast height like table tops.  Certainly, landscaping with native plants in naturalistic settings presents a new paradigm that must be studied carefully in order to maintain and appreciate.

Considering these examples of sustainable landscaping, one might assume that a naturalistic planting of native plants is by definition no-maintenance or low-maintenance.  That is not always true.  The level of maintenance depends, as with other types of landscaping, upon the form, function and appropriateness of the whole and its parts.  A building or structure may appear to be unified with the natural surroundings, but it is not actually, and nature is always on the move.  Sooner or later, considerable maintenance is in order.  Nevertheless, landscaping with native plants is a refreshing new concept which time has come.

The following is a partial plant list of species we noted.

Aesculus pavia var. pavia
Amelanchior x Autumn Brilliance
Ampelaster caroliniana
Arisaema triphyllum
Asarum virginicum
Campsis radicans
Carex grayi
Chasmanthium laxum
Clematis catesbyana
Cocculus carolinus
Conoclinium coelestinum
Cornus asperifolia
Dichromena colorata
Elephantopus tomentusus
Erythrina herbacea
Eupatorium purpureum
Eustachys petraea
Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy'
Gelsemium sempervirens
Helianthus hirsutus
Heliotropium curassavicum
Heterotheca graminifolia
Hypericum hypericoides
Ipomoea macrorhiza
Juniperus virginiana 'Brodie'
Krigia dandelion
Lobelia cardinalis
Lyonia lucida
Mitchella repens
Monarda punctata
Myrica cerifera
Nymphea spp.
Passiflora lutea
Quercus virginiana
Rhapidophyllum hystrix
Salvia lyrata
Sanguinaria canadensis
Scuttelaria integrifolia
Serenoa repens
Spigelia marilandica
Stipa spartea
Symphotrichum concolor
Rudbeckia maxima
Ruellia carolinensis
Trillium maculatum
Tripsacum dactyloides
Toxicodendron radicans
Verbena rigida
Viburnum acerifolium
Viburnum obovatum
Vitis rotundifolia
Yucca recurvifolia

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1 comment:

Rino's Mess said...

I would love to see more pictures of this garden!