Karen and Ron Galloway have carefully thought out every section of their garden. Together, over many years, they have gradually created a calming retreat where
flowers, trees, and vegetables live in harmony with birds and bees. Like in a marriage, Ron talks about the importance of compromise when creating a garden. He says, “It’s a two-person thing. What do you think? What do I think? What’s going to look best?”
Until he retired, Ron worked at the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and Karen had a career at the solicitor’s office for almost 40 years. “It was a demanding job,” she says. “Gardening is the only thing I found that makes me relax. Hauling bags of soil. Moving cement pots. Moving plants from one spot to the next. We love it.”
Karen and Ron like to create areas of focus in their yard — from shaded spots with seating to sunny vegetable patches. Walking toward one such setting, Karen ducks under a large white umbrella and steps onto some stone pavers. She stands by a wicker chair and black metal bench with floral cushion. Nearby, blue flowerpots rest on several small side tables, a perfect enclave to sit and visit with friends.
Just outside this seating area, a vegetable garden is sectioned off with pea gravel. Karen likes to combine herbs and flowers with vegetables. In this spot, a savory bay leaf tree, Ming fern, and asparagus fern coexist with squash, cucumbers, and tomato plants.
As a young married couple in the 1970s, Karen and Ron watched gardening shows. Karen says, “You can learn a lot from Making it Grow on ETV.” The show Gardening Naturally also influenced the way they garden. Karen says, “Back then Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch started everyone with organic gardens, and we followed their advice.” As organic gardeners, Karen and Ron use plants such as marigolds, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and dill as well as a solution called Organocide to keep away naturally the slugs and aphids.
Karen pauses by a miniature fig tree. “This variety is called ‘Little Miss Figgy.’ She’s adorable, isn’t she?” A few yards away, a bluebird flies out of a weathered wooden bluebird box. “We have three or four broods a year. They sit up there and make sure no one is in their territory.” The garden also attracts woodpeckers, warblers, goldfinches, and hummingbirds. “This is major bird central. Ron buys lots of seed from Wild Birds Unlimited,” Karen says.
In addition to the sound of bird calls, soothing flowing water can be heard from several fountains around the garden. “It cools you off,” Karen says as she approaches a large Kimberly Queen fern in a stone pot. “This is an easy fern. What I try to put in my garden are plants that require little maintenance.” Asked if she ever covers her plants when it’s below freezing, she says with a laugh, “I don’t buy those plants; they have to be cooperative to make it around here.” She gently rustles the fern fronds. “It takes the fun out it. You should be having a good time.”
Bees and butterflies flock to Karen and Ron’s garden with good reason; the Galloways plant numerous pollinators to attract them. Bees need both pollen and nectar, while hummingbirds and butterflies need only nectar. But as they travel from plant to plant, they all transfer pollen as they feed. Bright vivid colors like red and purple entice butterflies, and white, yellow, and blue blooms lure the bees. “That’s the point,” Karen says. “To bring all the little creatures into your yard.”
Pollinators in the garden include butterfly bush, salvia, pineapple sage, Joe Pye weed, ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ coneflower, Veronica speedwell, lantana, purple verbena, and mountain mint. Karen and Ron also place birdbaths at different heights to provide water for the bees, butterflies, and birds.
While Karen is in charge of choosing the flowers and herbs, her husband plants them. “Ron is the guy who will move things, take stuff out. He understands how you have to work in the garden. It isn’t going to happen all by itself,” Karen says.
By 7 a.m., Karen is usually out watering the plants. “Water is the secret to everything,” she says. “The one thing everyone minimizes is the amount of water it takes to run a garden. It takes a lot because we have so much heat.” Karen and Ron use pine straw as a ground cover to retain that water. “It helps keep the plants moist so they do not go through so much shock during the heat of the day.”
At the back of the garden, a small shed holds garden tools and lawn equipment, but to call it a shed would be a misnomer. Karen once saw a photo of a small cottage in an issue of Southern Living, and she wanted her shed to be an exact copy with columns, windows, and a front door. She took the torn magazine page to a shed company in West Columbia and showed the employees the photo. “I said, ‘Have you all ever done anything like this?’ and they said, ‘No,’ and I said, ‘Would you do this for me?’”
Ron bought the lumber, and the carpenters arrived with a sawhorse and power tools. They built it in three days, adding special touches like molding and shutters. “They were so proud of their work,” Karen says.
Next to the shed/cottage, string beans, okra, tomatoes, squash, and special heirloom peas are growing within a border of stone pavers and giant mondo grass. Karen received the heirloom pea seed, thought to be the original black-eyed pea, from Dr. James Kibler of Newberry County. “This past summer I planted it in my garden, and it was prolific. They’re gorgeous.”
She and Ron stir-fry zucchini, peppers, and squash; eat cucumber sandwiches; and can the tomatoes to later add to soups in the winter. “Everyone says to plant your garden in April or May, but we plant in March because the heat settles so quickly that it will traumatize the plants. If they have a cool spring with a good spring rain, it’s healthier for the plant. It’s too hot to work in a garden in the South in the middle of the summer,” Karen says.
Karen heads toward the back wooden fence, and as if on cue, an orange-and-black butterfly lands on the purple flowers of a butterfly bush. She points out a ‘Herbemont’ grapevine climbing the fence. The grape is named for Nicholas Herbemont, a Frenchman who lived in downtown Columbia in the early 1800s. After trying unsuccessfully to grow European grapes in his garden, he discovered by chance a seedling that was a mix of a European grape and an American native species. The hybridized sweet pale reddish-brown fruit soon was used to produce dry refined wines.
On the way back toward the house, Karen strolls through a path shaded by Chinese fringe trees, a native dogwood, and a Japanese maple. She deliberately left a large fern frond overhanging the path. “It changes your stride. It makes you pause so that you look,” Karen says. In slowing down, one can see the ‘Wedding Veil hydrangea,’ a silvery grey ‘Ghost’ fern, and begonias. “This is a calming garden. I really try to make it feel intentional but also relaxed. See how you feel in here? Very different from that sun.”
Back out in the heat of the sun, Karen nods toward two different dianthus, a pale pink and a hot pink, she uses as a ground cover. “One smells like cloves and one smells more cinnamon-y,” she says. She pauses at a section of lavender cotton, also known as santolina. Leaning over, she picks a leaf and inhales its earthy, pungent, sage-like aroma.
The tour ends with a stop at a raised covered porch dotted with special mementos like shells from trips to the beach as well as a blown glass fish. Karen sits down at a round table with a cooling fan above and talks about a recent accomplishment. Several years ago, a speaker gave a presentation at her garden club on how to become a flower show judge. Karen decided to enroll and took classes in flower design and horticulture over a two-year period. “When I first started, I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. It was so hard, but as I went through it, because of the process, I learned so much.”
Karen had to compete for blue ribbons in flower design. She initially thought she’d only be interested in creating traditional flower arrangements, but she soon became fascinated with more abstract flower designs, such as floor and cascade designs. “You’re given themes, and you have to interpret them with flowers. You have to be artistic. You have to be mechanical. You have to figure out how to make these pieces stay together.” After time spent studying and competing, she received her certification as a nationally accredited flower show judge this past December. “I am really proud of that,” she says.
Leaning forward, she points toward a hydrangea in full sun, a spot that used to be shady. “I have to water it every day because it’s in the wrong place. That’s what happens in your garden; it changes because the world changes. You never get it fixed. It’s never done. Something always needs to be done, but we love it.”