Gardening March 2019

by Jane Ahrens

From Mélie’s Garden

During the month of February, my husband and I were fortunate to travel south to escape some of the cold winter weather. (Please click any image for a larger version.)

Our tour started visiting friends in South Carolina, where our hostess, Margot Bogert, arranged a wonderful visit to Wormsloe Plantation on the Isle of Hope just outside of Savannah, GA. Wormsloe is a large estate established by one of Georgia’s colonial founders, Noble Jones, in the 1730s. His descendant, Craig Barrows and his wife Diane are still in residence on the property and live in the original house. The Barrow’s Wormsloe Foundation donated 822 acres to The Nature Conservancy, which transferred the land to the State of Georgia to be managed by the Department of Natural Resources as a historic site. In 2013 the Barrows donated an additional 15 acres to the University of Georgia to establish the Center for Research and Education at Wormsloe. “The center provides opportunities for faculty and students to study cultural history and historical land use practices, under the direction of Sarah Ross, a member of the faculty of the College of Environmental and Design and executive director of CREW.”

They are researching 400 varieties of vegetables in the UGA Heirloom Demonstration Garden there. “Some of these plants, such as peanuts, blueberries, and cotton, are leaders in Georgia’s robust agricultural industry. Heirloom vegetable trials on the site contribute to the profitability for coastal Georgia’s family farms by measuring plant productivity, pest and disease resistance, and flood and drought tolerance.” Professor Ross showed us the large raised bed garden and talked about the importance of heirloom plants to encourage crop diversity. She presented us with packets of seeds collected there to try in our own gardens this summer. She gave us a taste of new pea leaves growing there and they were wonderfully delicious! I am eager to see if I will have the same results this summer on Fishers Island.

We next drove down the coast of Georgia to visit Cumberland Island. We took a passenger ferry from Fernandina Beach, FL and motored along the Cumberland River arriving at the Greyfield Inn dock on the Island forty minutes later. Cumberland is the largest of the Sea Islands along the Georgia Coast. It was Tacatacuru Indian Territory and in the 16th and 17th Century part of Spanish Florida. In Colonial times General James Oglethorpe built a hunting lodge on the Island and it became part of the British Colony. Sea Island Cotton was grown on the Island for generations along with indigo, rice and food crops. It is said that the wood from the numerous live oak trees was used to build the USS Constitution – “Old Ironsides”.

In the 1880’s Thomas M. Carnegie, the brother of Andrew bought the Island and built a large Scottish manor house “Dungeness”, the ruins of which one can see today. Carnegie had a daughter Lucy, who married Robert W. Ferguson, a distant relative of the Fergusons of Fishers Island. The manor house they built on the Island is now the Greyfield Inn. In 1972, Cumberland became a National Park. We very much enjoyed our visit on the Island. It reminded us of a southern Fishers Island in many ways except it is far less populated and armadillos are numerous instead of rabbits.

The beach is long and beautiful with shells much more unusual than the ones we find on the Connecticut shoreline. And wild horses wander around where ever they want to go on the Island. I am sure that many of our birds on Fishers Island stop on Cumberland on their way North. The weekend we were there was part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s World Wide Bird Count. The Greyfield Inn has a large organic garden that produces most of the vegetables, flowers, and citrus for the kitchen. It was interesting to talk to the two young gardeners and find out that they were also familiar with the work of Sarah Ross at the Wormsloe Plantation and are going to attend a seminar there this spring.

After our naturalistic weekend on Cumberland, we made our way down to Palm Beach, FL to visit our friend Polly Reed. Polly is an expert horticulturalist and grows the most beautiful orchids in her small Palm Beach garden. She had just attended a lecture by “our” Doug Tallamy on his book “Bringing Nature Home” and was busily replanting a bed with plants to attract butterflies and other beneficial insects. Palm Beach has become more interested in environmental issues in the last couple of years and has banned the planting of Ficus hedges that attract white fly and need to be sprayed throughout the year. They are also banning Australian Pine, which has become very invasive in the State. It was gratifying to see how up and down the East Coast people have become so much more aware of our environment and how hard we all have to work to preserve it!

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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