By Jodi Helmer
At the last meeting of the Magnolia Garden Club, members voted to undertake a massive renovation of Belva Green Garden in downtown Latta. The garden, named in honor of former Magnolia Garden Club member Belva Green, is currently just a collection of overgrown evergreen shrubs on the corner of West Main Street and Northwest Railroad Avenue.
Amanda Allen Morrell, landscape architect and garden club co-president, created a rendering to depict how the space could look with a little help from the 22-member garden club.
Her vision includes a colorful mural painted on the side of the High Cotton Auction House building, a pedestrian boardwalk complete with tables and market umbrellas, and, of course, lots of trees and flowers.
“We wanted to be bold and (create) a garden to not only honor the memory of Miss Belva but to provide a place that people can experience in our downtown,” Amanda explains. “What we’ve tried to do as a garden club is find was to partner with other civic groups and business to beautify the community in really unique ways.”
Marlboro and Dillon counties are home to six active garden clubs that bring together members with a passion for gardening to support the education preservation and conservation of local gardens.
The Garden Gate Garden Club of Bennettsville recognizes local homeowners with picturesque properties through its Yard of the Month Club. The Yellow Jessamine Garden Club of Dillon is active in local projects that include planting roses in honor of breast cancer survivors, creating floral arrangements for nursing home residents and maintaining gardens around Blue Star memorials.
The Magnolia Garden Club dates back to 1934. It welcomes gardeners of all ages and experience levels who share a love of gardening. Monthly meetings feature educational programs ranging from container gardening and cooking with herbs to attracting birds to the garden. Local experts from organizations such as Clemson University Extension, the South Carolina State Farm
Bureau, Abingdon Manor and Wild Birds Unlimited often lead the creative programs.
Callen Outen joined Magnolia Garden Club in 2018. Although she grew up in a family of gardeners, received a graduate degree in agricultural education and works as the Clemson University Extension consumer horticulture agent for Dillon and Marlboro counties, she believes there is still more to learn.
“We hear about new topics each week, and that expands our knowledge,” she says. “I like that I can take what I learn and go out to teach others.”
A recent workshop on air layering camellias—a method of propagating the woody plant to create a new plant—was new to Callen. The workshop inspired her to try the process at home. She’ll take a cutting from one of her camellia plants this month and attempt to create a replica to plant in the garden.
In addition to participating in club meetings and activities, Callen educates the public about gardening through her role at Clemson University. Her responsibilities include helping homeowners with all manner of gardening issues: from soil testing and identifying pests and diseases to leading workshops on topics such as dividing perennials, container gardening, worm composting, planting fruit trees and straw bale gardening.
“There is a lot of interest in gardening in Dillon and Marlboro counties,” Callen says. “Some people garden to relax and spend time outside, and others grow their own food so they don’t have to shop at the grocery store.”
For those who are just starting out, Callen believes free and low-cost extension workshops and expert advice can help build the confidence to start planting flowers, growing vegetables and creating a beautiful—and delicious— landscape or container garden.
Novice gardeners are welcome to join the garden club.
“There’s no prerequisite to being a member of the club,” Amanda says. “We have quite a spectrum of women in our club that range from professional landscape architects like me and women who have been gardening in their yards for years and know so much, to women who join because (gardening) is something that they admire from afar but don’t really know a lot about. We strive to have programs each month that teach us lessons about how to be better gardeners and how to take care of the natural world in a positive way.”
Participating in local beautification and maintenance projects is an excellent way to get hands-on experience in the garden and most garden club members are active in community service projects.
“A garden club is one of those civic groups that not only does things like educate its members, but is an outward- reaching club that is constantly trying to find ways to beautify the community and teach the younger generation about gardening,” Amanda explains. “We’re an all-volunteer organization that cares about the community and wants to come together in whatever small ways we can to do great things.”
In 2012, the Magnolia Garden Club— as part of a statewide effort that included the Garden Club of South Carolina and Historic Trees for Historic Places— partnered with Latta Elementary School to build the Legacy Tree Trail.
The quarter-mile loop features 12 trees of different sizes to educate visitors about how trees mature. Plaques list the “date of birth” of each tree, and include information about environmental stressors that affect growth and survival. Each tree was planted in memory of a local resident who left a legacy in the community. Elementary school students created artwork to go with each plaque.
The project—funded with the help of $200,000 in grants—is in the final stages.
“We wanted to create an experiential moment that not only celebrated the culture of our community, but also taught children valuable lessons about trees and how they contribute to our world,” Amanda says.
While gardening is the main focus, Amanda believes garden clubs also help strengthen local communities.
“It’s really special to have a group that crosses generations,” Amanda says. “We’re all in different chapters and phases of our lives, and we all learn from each other. Being open to new ideas and learning from all the great knowledge that these women hold has been the most special thing to me about being a part of the garden club.”
Seven Gardens to Plant at Home
Concerns about declining populations of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators have led to increased interest in planting gardens that attract pollinators. Plants such as bee balm, verbena, purple coneflower and coreopsis are valuable sources of nectar. Snapdragons, azalea and violets provide food for caterpillars that will turn into beautiful butterflies.
Thanks to their intoxicating scents, lavender, chamomile, lemon balm and mint are used in products ranging from soaps and shampoos to candles. The fragrant annuals and perennials can be harvested from the garden and used in bouquets and sachets that will make the house smell great. In addition to their amazing scents, these herbs taste great, too.
Nothing tastes better than herbs harvested straight from the garden. Use fresh basil in lemonade. Perk up potatoes with fresh rosemary and chives; add cilantro, parsley and oregano to fresh salsa. Herbs can be planted in the garden or grown in pots on a sunny windowsill. Make sure to wash them well before adding them to your favorite dishes.
You don’t need a lot of space to grow a beautiful garden. Colorful flowers such as lantana, geraniums, marigolds and petunias thrive in full sun. Got shade? Opt for impatiens, begonias or coleus. Many vegetables, including tomatoes, grow well in containers. Be sure to add drainage holes in the bottom of the container to avoid soggy roots. In sweltering South Carolina summers, container gardens will need extra water.