“My garden brings me such joy,” says Elizabeth Beal as she walks among the vibrant flowers. “It is my place of peace. I enjoy watching the different variety of plants that pop up. In the spring the irises bloom, then the cattails, followed by the lilies, and in June the lotus – a big, beautiful white flower whose center looks like a yellow cupcake.”
Elizabeth inherited her green thumb from Caroline and Jenks Mikell, her grandparents. “My grandfather grafted award-winning camellias, and my grandmother loved old roses,” she says. “She probably was my biggest gardening influence.” That influence shines through in various aspects of Elizabeth’s garden, particularly in the roses and the exotic goldfish pond. Located by a brick wall adorned with fig vines, it is a special spot for Elizabeth – her favorite in the garden. “I love my goldfish pond because my grandmother had one,” she says. “It brings back great memories.”
Like all worthwhile goals, completing the garden took time and patience. It was crafted after the addition of a new master bedroom destroyed the original yard seven years ago. “We knew the renovation would tear up the yard, so along with having house designs made, we had Elizabeth Rice draft a garden plan,” explains Elizabeth. “A good design is very important. Once I had that, it made things much easier.”
A goal-oriented gardener, Elizabeth took on the project with zest, finishing the garden over which her bedroom looks after four grueling months. “It wasn’t easy,” she divulges. “The mess, the tractors … it was hard. The toughest part was that it was a continual process; there was no break between the bedroom addition and the garden construction. Even so, I enjoyed it thoroughly and have no regrets. It was a great opportunity to personalize my yard.”
Elizabeth oversaw the installation of a French drain system that moves rainwater around the house instead of onto the courtyard, as well as the construction of a brick wall, some brick steps, a wooden gate and iron latticework. “I used handmade bricks from Old Carolina Brick Company to build the wall and steps. The wooden gate was hand crafted locally by Scott Allen.”
A vibrant blue wall of cascading hydrangeas completely conceals the intricate ironwork, illustrating the secrets her garden holds. “I specifically had iron latticework made for the long leaf clematis, and now the hydrangeas grow in front of both,” she says.
Elizabeth escapes often to her garden for rejuvenation and relaxation, spending around six hours a week in the springtime among the dirt and flowers. “I feel better once I have worked in my garden. It is so rewarding.” Her hard work and toil not only produce breath-taking results, but they also entice small animals. Raccoons, birds and bullfrogs often impose upon her hospitality, nestling themselves into various nooks and crannies in the garden, yet she doesn’t seem to mind the company. “I love to wake up to the sound of the bullfrogs,” she says with a smile. “It’s a sign that spring is here.”
The small animals are not the only ones who delight in the vibrant wonderland. Elizabeth and Michael, her husband, and Pinkney, Michael, Jr. and Duffy, their children, eat dinner on the patio whenever possible, enjoying each other’s company and breathing in the fresh scent of cut grass, cool dirt and fragrant flowers. “Eating dinner on the patio with my family is special,” Elizabeth says. “It’s where we catch up with each other. I know I will have many wonderful memories from these times together.”
Elizabeth’s energetic sons found their own way to enjoy her place of peace, making it into a baseball field when they were younger. Not many mothers would permit children to mark specific bushes or potted plants as different bases, but Elizabeth didn’t mind, although she is thankful that season was brief. “Some baseballs were known to go through a window,” laughs Elizabeth as she points to a broken bedroom window that still needs repairing.
Her family gets to experience almost all play and no work in this landscape, a luxury that she happily affords them. “Basically it’s just me. However, Michael will step in when I need some extra muscle, and Michael, Jr. often cuts the grass.”
Clearly, gardening is not for the faint of heart. Hard work and determination are key ingredients for success, and Elizabeth explains that her garden is not always a peaceful respite. “Keeping the fig vine trimmed and the weeds out of the beds are the biggest challenges,” she confides. “As much as I love being outside, I am usually glad when winter arrives, and I have a reprieve from the fig vine.” Still, this menial task provides a therapeutic outlet for the daily hassles of life. And while the obstinate fig vine might require extra elbow grease, the other perks of the garden overpower the unremitting vine. “It is constantly changing – like a changing wardrobe,” she says. “I like to try new things.” That allows her to be open to new plants, sometimes causing her garden to overflow with an eclectic variety. She recounts one incident when she was attending an auction at a Converse College reunion and spontaneously bid on a Japanese maple; this now looming tree is a dynamic part in the garden.
Elizabeth strives to use plants that reflect family memories. Multi-colored flowers from the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School plant sale and bright, yellow flowers from the family property in Lodge, S.C. bloom in her garden. This unique collection of plants, combined with the pleasant landscape, offers the perfect location for a tranquil escape.