A Casual Gardener
Judy Grier finds true relaxation in the midst of her lakeside landscape
Judy and Barron Grier’s Lake Murray home feels very secluded, tucked away on a peninsula. It also catches a pleasant breeze off the lake.
Photography by Emily Clay
For most gardeners, the love of planting, weeding and getting down in the dirt comes from a long family lineage of gardeners. For Judy Grier, however, the joys of gardening came in 1999 when she and Barron, her husband, moved permanently from city life to their family home on Lake Murray.
“While living in Columbia, I spent all of my time doing yard work, not gardening,” Judy says. “Barron and I lived in Forest Hills on a hilly lot with mature plants and tons of ivy, which required constant work to maintain and protect. In other words, it was a great deal of weeding, weeding and more weeding. Our property at the lake was very wild, but since we only lived there during the summer, I spent most of my gardening time there growing tomatoes and annuals. I never thought we would live at the lake permanently, so I really didn’t garden permanently.”
Judy explains that there is a huge difference between yard work and gardening. “Yard work is maintaining what is already there, keeping it healthy and alive – the ‘down and dirty’ of pruning and weeding. Gardening involves this but also includes picking the things that you like and thinking creatively about size and space. I love the fun of planning and putting everything together!”
John Cooper, a family friend, helped Judy start the creative process at her peninsula home on the lake and introduced her to a variety of interesting foundation plants, including a non-invasive Amethyst Falls Wisteria. The addition of a back porch four years ago introduced a year of transitions as the Griers shifted plants around and added new ones.
“Gardens are always changing,” Judy says. “We had a panoramic view of the lake from the upstairs porch, but we never spent time there because we mainly live downstairs during the day. I love our new back porch because it brings the garden inside and takes us out into it. The beautiful ginger lilies smell incredible while in bloom, and though we are surrounded by water, it is so nice to hear it running from our little frog fountain.”
One issue to keep in mind with a garden is water. Even the regular growth of plants over time can prevent other areas from getting adequate water. Judy believes this is one possible explanation for why her moon vine flourished so beautifully one year and then quickly died the second year.
Judy’s approach to the creative aspect of gardening tends to be just to wing it rather than carefully researching and planning the way most avid gardeners do. “I am a casual gardener,” she says. “I put things in the ground and see if they work. I don’t have a store of knowledge about how all the different plants are supposed to be placed, but I still do it anyway. Gardening is purely visual for me. If I like the way it is going to look, I give it a try.”
She acknowledges that trying to decide where to put things can be overwhelming, but she says that it is important not to get discouraged when you are working. “You can’t give up – just keep moving things around until the plants find a spot they like.”
Judy’s garden colors and design reflect the colors and design in her own home. She doesn’t like for things to be terribly symmetrical, structured or “matchy-matchy;” rather, she prefers a loose approach where things are a bit wild and complement each other.
Judy’s approach to gardening tends to be to just wing it, rather than carefully researching and planning the way most gardeners do.
A defining aspect of the Griers’ garden is the number of trees on their lot. While Barron occasionally comments that he can hardly see the lake, it is important to Judy that the house is tucked away behind the trees so that she looks through them to see the house from the lake. The trees also keep the house much cooler in the summer.
The Griers’ home feels very secluded and tucked away on the peninsula, and it also catches a pleasant breeze off of the lake. The lot has the added benefit of attracting many songbirds and the feeling of being far away from any city.
Planted around the back porch are a maple tree with a hummingbird feeder for the many buzzing beauties that frequent the area, yew, boxwoods, wild ferns that come up every year, ginger lilies, hydrangeas and two old garden rose bushes that are native to South Carolina.
From the street side of the house, a walkway leads around the left toward the lake and is lined with a Pittosporum hedge. Azaleas surround a pin oak at one end of the path. On the side of the house is a lovely patio surrounded with white crepe myrtles and furnished with outdoor tables and chairs perfectly suited for viewing the lake and enjoying the breeze.
In the front of the house are exceptionally large cedars and pines, which give a nice forest feel to the yard. The yard is also adorned with a mock orange, magnolias and roses. “Even though they are not native, we decided to plant a few palm trees near the house which look just beautiful lit up at night,” says Judy.
In one shady spot on the other side of the house, Judy has ferns, hostas, Solomon’s seal and a small red maple enclosed by a small hedge of boxwoods.
Judy does not allot a specific amount of time to regularly spend in the garden; rather, it all depends on the day, the week and the time of year. “I can work frantically to get everything tended to and then not think about it again for a while. I love gardening in the spring and fall, of course, but by the end of the summer when everything looks spent and the bugs are eating away, I just don’t worry about it. I don’t use pesticides, and if I lose something, there is always something to fill the spot. I do wish that I had a more specific plan since I am guilty of buying too many plants without a particular place for them.”
Judy says that her favorite part of gardening is being able to work all day and not feel pulled in a million different directions. “The therapy of spending an entire day getting dirty and tired and then seeing the rewards is very relaxing for me,” she says. “I love to stay all day in the yard and accomplish a lot of different projects. The joy of envisioning something and then seeing it turn out the way I had hoped is very rewarding – probably because it does not always happen that way!”
There are challenges of gardening at the lake that are not factors in Columbia, like the strong winds and the tough red clay soil. The climate is usually about a week behind since the lake breeze keeps things a little cooler, as evidenced in the blooming of the azaleas and the forsythia.
“The challenges are what make it fun,” says Judy. “Working with plants is kind of like having children — they are not always going to perform how you would like for them to, but you can’t get discouraged. You just have to try new things and keep working at it.”