Spring Gardening Fever in the Lowcountry

By Michele Roldán-Shaw 

Another delicious springtime in the Lowcountry!

Heady scents of honeysuckle, wisteria, Carolina jessamine and fresh winds off the water combine to perfume the air. Azaleas and dogwoods are blooming, and showers of brown leaves filter down from the live oaks. Faint wafts of a smoky yard waste fire drift by to remind you that it’s time to work in the yard.

There are many reasons to get your hands in the earth this year, from the health benefits of fresh herbs and vegetables to the ecological impact of native plants and butterfly habitats.


Whether out of need, love or tradition, Bluffton residents tend vegetable plots. Passersby admire their tidy collard rows, tall okra stalks, pea and bean patches and loaded lemon and fig trees; friends get bags of out-of-control cucumbers or yellow squash. People who don’t grown their own buy from local vendors.

“People in Bluffton appreciate good vegetables straight from the garden,” said Farmer Joe King, a regular fixture at the Bluffton Farmer’s Market. “It does something to their spirits. Fresh peas and butterbeans are the most popular crop. If people could have them year-round, they would.”

Bluffton’s long growing season makes it possible to cultivate a wide array of vegetables, but it’s important to know what to plant and when. To learn what’s going in the ground this spring, we consulted Farmer Joe. Here are his best suggestions:

  • Garden peas/English peas: one of the most popular crops in spring.
  • String beans, pole beans, roma beans: plant in March
  • Red potatoes, Irish potatoes, onions, garlic, leeks: plant in early March (or sooner)
  • Collards, mustards, kale, cabbage, turnips, rutabagas, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce: all these greens grow throughout winter; the cold doesn’t bother them. Some, such as lettuce and mustards, can’t tolerate any heat, but collards and kale often run right through May
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, carrots, beets: plant in March
  • Sweet corn, sweet potatoes: plant between hot and cold seasons, in early or late April
  • Peas (black eye, crowder, zipper, etc.), butterbeans, okra, tomatoes, eggplants, melons, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, peanuts, all types of peppers: wait until the weather gets warm in May


As the holistic health movement sweeps the nation, more and more people are turning to natural remedies to avoid pharmaceuticals. Why not grow a few of your own? Even if you just want mint leaves to throw in your sweet tea, the health benefits of fresh herbs are considerable.

“Gardening is a way to connect to our soul’s purpose, which is to live, be happy, be healthy and help each other,” said local iridologist and herbalist Amy Spadafora-Thompson. “When we grow herbs and bring them into our bodies, it’s a way to take personal responsibility for our health, then that radiates out into the universe. We are each other’s healing.”

Amy explains that it’s important to use organic gardening methods. “Herbs don’t like synthetic fertilizers or acidic soil,” she said. “They like sweet (alkaline) well-drained soil, and they thrive when fertilized with liquid seaweed, kelp or fish emulsion. Healthy soil equals healthy plants, which equals more health benefits for us.”

Amy facilitates a gardening program at May River Montessori, where the students have built raised beds and a medicine wheel garden. They’ve planted, tended, harvested, prepped and consumed veggies and have created a certified Wildlife Habitat Garden.

Amy also has her own herbal tea and health consulting business, Harmonic Infusions. She shared essential herbs to have on hand in the garden for cooking and health. Here are a few of her favorites:

  • Rosemary: Perennial, full sun, deer resistant, use fresh or dry. Great to add to potatoes and to meat because it helps break down the proteins for digestion. Rosemary tea increases mental clarity, and a strong brew also makes a great hair rinse.
  • Oregano: Perennial, full sun, deer resistant, use fresh or dry. Immune booster, helps prevent colds, warming, aids digestion. Great in any dish!
  • Basil: Annual, full sun, deer resistant. Wait until you’ve filed taxes before planting!
  • Basil needs warm nights. Make pesto, add fresh leaves to salad, sprinkle generously over every meal. Aids digestion, nourishes and restores the nervous system, calms anxiety and reduces mental chatter.
  • Parsley: Biennial (lasts 2 years), full sun, deer will nibble. Use fresh, not very beneficial when dried. Juice leaves or sprinkle in salad. Cleansing, detoxifying, extremely high in Vitamin C.
  • Mint: Perennial, full sun, deer resistant, use fresh or dry. Great in salads. Tea prevents colds (or soothes if you already have one) and is great for upper respiratory infections. Chewing fresh leaves relieves nausea and upset stomach.
  • Flowers and Ornamentals

Bluffton’s subtropical climate lends itself to creating lush, attractive environments full of greenery and punctuated by pops of color.

“Generally, you want to please yourself,” said expert gardener and native Blufftonian Ben Turner. “You also want to see something blooming every time you look in an area and plan so that when one thing goes down, the next blooms.”

Start with your evergreens to provide the background, Ben says, such as the classic azalea, which comes in a range of colors and sizes. He calls Camellia “queen of the garden,” thanks to its beautiful waxy leaves and winter blooms. Mix in annuals like pansies, geraniums and impatiens and look for plants with extended blooms times, such as lantana that peaks in late summer and is very attractive to butterflies.

Go to a good locally based nursery where someone is on hand who knows about plants and choose from what they have available. It’s important to get things in the ground before the weather starts cranking up to 90-degree temperatures.

“Our heat is more than what they think it is,” advised Ben. “Read the tags, and don’t get something that can’t handle the sun.”

Tulips, for example, never do well here, but there are lots of sages and salvias that can stand up to the heat and will bloom in late summer or early fall.

Try variegated plants for color and texture and consider cannas and elephant ears. Decorative grass is another great way to add interest and break up a pattern.

“Look in magazines and see how the pros arrange flowers,” Ben advised. “Your garden is just a giant flower arrangement!”

For fragrance, you can plant roses this month or aromatic climbers such as Confederate jasmine, honeysuckle and wisteria, especially if you have a structure, like a tree, in your yard.

“If there is a patch of lawn that never grows right, it probably doesn’t get enough sun,” Ben said. “Turn it into a flower bed! Ground covers are a great solution. St. John’s wort, which has pretty little flowers, does well here, is easy to control and goes great under live oaks. Another idea is blueberry shrubs.”

Finally, Ben recommends testing your soil to see what it needs before you just start throwing stuff in. However, adding nutrients with manure or mushroom compost is usually a safe bet. He also recommends watching the South Carolina ETV program “Making It Grow.”

General Landscaping

The Annual Lowcountry Home and Garden Show this month may be just what you need to get inspired for your yard. At 34 years and running, it’s the largest home and garden trade show in the Lowcountry, with more than 100 exhibitors, from pavers and pest control experts to tree-trimmers and pool companies. It runs in conjunction with the popular Parade of Homes Tour so that you can get inspired by what others are doing in Beaufort County.

“It’s a nice way for people to get out and get ready for spring, to start brightening up the front porch,” said Meg James, executive officer of the Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association. “We invite master gardeners from Clemson Extension to put on daily seminars, and we have workshops by Taylor’s Landscape Supply and Nursery. Somebody will talk about what spring flowers to plant, somebody else will talk about how to get rid of moles—the topics are always relevant, and it’s free. Whether you’re a prospective homebuyer or a homeowner in search of ideas and inspiration, the Lowcountry Home and Garden Show is the place to start.”

If You Go

  • What: Lowcountry Home and Garden Show
  • When: March 29-31, 2019
  • Where: Buckwalter Recreation Complex
  • 905 Buckwalter Parkway, Bluffton
  • Admission: Free
  • More info: lowcountryhomeandgardenshow.com