Experienced gardeners transplanting themselves to the Lowcountry find they must become acclimated to growing their gardens here. Even for those with decades of gardening under their belt, it sometimes can feel like starting over.
Pat Harpell, a Massachusetts transplant who had been gardening for 50 years, settled here 18 months ago. Harpell began to garden alongside her mother, an avid gardener, at 8. Yet she continually rethinks her steps when tending the 13 gardens growing in her yard.
Harpell, who founded the South Carolina Herbal Society soon after moving here, adds to her gardening knowledge by sharing with local gardeners and taking the corrective measures Mother Nature demands, she says.
The lifelong gardener is a member of the Charleston Horticultural Society and the Mediterranean Garden Society. She volunteers with groups such as the Charleston Parks Conservancy and works at Hyams Garden Center.
Harpell often encounters new residents who are just plain confused about the way their plants respond, she says.
“I just moved here, and I don’t get it. I don’t know what to do,” is what Harpell says she often hears.
Gardening successfully after such a move takes more than a general acknowledgement that you have switched U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones, she says. Even terms used, that gardeners everywhere are accustomed to using, must be reconsidered.
Take, for example, the term full sun. “An afternoon of sun in Charleston is like a full day of sun in Minnesota or Massachusetts,” she says.
Gardeners also should consider other differences, what used to be normal and what is normal now.
“In Massachusetts, we gardened from May 30 until the first frost, which could be as early as mid-September,” Harpell says. “Heat and humidity might only exist for one month before cooler weather sets in.
“We used to call rocks our winter crop,” Harpell says. “The ground freezes down 3 to 4 feet and pushes up the rocks. They would be all over the yard. You go to put in a plant and there’s a rock there. You had to dig them up. Some of them were boulders.
“I had to relearn how to garden,” she says.
That includes knowing that a plant might grow here, but at another time of the year.
Spring plants in Massachusetts are winter plants here, she says. They include snap dragons, violas and pansies, winter annuals here.
“People will come in and say: I’m looking for pansies,” Harpell says. In the North, pansies will be showing up in greenhouses soon.
“That term ‘winter annual’ makes me chuckle,” she says. “That is such an unusual term coming from the North. In the winter, all we had was snow. In the house that I lived in in Acton, Massachusetts, the snow did not leave my front yard until the first week in June.”
On the other hand, the tropical house plants she had up North, such as banana plants, rosemary and Meyer lemons, have done well in her yard on James Island.
Yet perennials in the Northeast, such as delphiniums and tulips, are annuals down here, Harpell says. Lilacs and peonies don’t grow here, she says.
Harpell’s experiences have taught her some things she recommends to others, she says.
Have a beginners mind. Get to see the wonder of it.
Visit as many garden and garden centers as possible.
Join some kind of gardening organization. Realize there are no stupid questions.
“You must ask a plant: How can I make it most fruitful for you to grow here? Then, create the best environment for it you can,” she says.
“That’s all life is about. How can we help each other to survive the best we can. We do it with our children. We do it with our friends. We should do it with our plants.”
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.