Stepping into Sally Williamson’s garden is like entering a painted canvas. The orderly design – infused with plants of all shades of green and a small, rectangular pond – creates a supremely relaxing atmosphere.
Sally Williamson with her son, Charles, 17
“It was a little forest when I first moved here, and I wanted to open it up to enjoy the space while still maintaining the forest feeling,” explains Sally.
This involved relocating most of the camellia bushes that were scattered throughout the yard. “I called my friend and neighbor, Beth Kibler, and told her that I was putting some camellias in the yard trash on the street because I simply didn’t have a spot for them,” Sally says. “She was here in minutes, and they have found a new home in her beautiful garden.” Sally kept the majority of the tall pines and majestic oaks, however, as they are essential to the “painting” of the house from the front street view. Most importantly, she wanted to create a garden that matched the 1937 home, which is a mix of French and Tudor styles.
“My first priority was to have everything blend, to flow from the inside out and for it to look like it had always been that way,” says Sally.
For example, instead of a regular driveway, she has a pebbled drive-court with lavender Crape Myrtles at each corner. Shelia Wertimer and Associates of Charleston did the initial set of plans for Sally’s garden, Fred Holmes, a local landscaper, implemented them and Sally completed the finishing touches.
“I wanted to have my own brushstrokes on my garden — I could never turn it over to someone else entirely. I garden for pleasure in the same way that I paint for pleasure; I view gardens as works of art,” reflects Sally.
Stepping into Sally Williamson’s backyard, visitors are greeted by a sphere-shaped bubbling fountain of Pennsylvania blue stone at the end of a small rectangular pond (top left photo). More potted plants and yard art add interest to the garden.
Sally attributes many of her ideas to her mother’s taste in gardening: “She was not a big flower person but loved trees like pink dogwoods and magnolias, even though magnolias are messy. She really liked ivy and boxwoods as well.” When her mother moved to the west coast of Florida from Atlanta, she adored her lone orange tree because it was a symbol of her new life there.
Sally, in keeping with her mother’s taste, gravitates towards shades of green in her own garden as well. Though this style of garden requires a lot of shaping and trimming, it is a lot less hassle overall than annuals and perennials while still creating an artistic effect. Sally does like to have a few miscellaneous annuals planted in pots around the exterior that are always based on color. Her favorite color to use is purple, and she never mixes more than two colors as a time.
“Mixing colors dilutes the impact that individual colors can have,” she explains.
Stepping into the backyard, visitors are greeted by a sphere-shaped bubbling fountain of Pennsylvania blue stone at the end of a small rectangular pond — Sally’s favorite aspect of her garden.
“The sphere contrasts so nicely with the rest of the garden. Everything else is straight lines and angles as I like a squared look. The accented circle amidst the edges really pops.”
The subtle sound of running water creates a Zen-like relaxing element in the yard. The garden is adorned with ferns, hostas, gardenias and tea olives. Along one wall grow Lady Banks roses and climbing hydrangeas that her son Charles, 17, helped her plant well into the night during a driving rainstorm.
“Hydrangeas in any variety are my favorite plant and different varieties are everywhere,” smiles Sally, “and Nellie Stevens Hollies always do well in the Columbia climate. They will eventually grow up to provide some privacy too.”
Accompanying the hollies in secluding the garden are staggered Green Giant Arborvitaes which grow over four feet per year. Growing up one wall of the house on an iron eighteenth-century French arched entrance gate are a fig vine and a Confederate Jasmine that will eventually cover the arbor built off of the house.
Sally added an outdoor fireplace on the patio near the arbor, which is both decorative and functional. “It is wonderful for cooking in or just burning a fire for the coziness of it. Listening to the running water while sitting out on the patio is the best way to start and end the day.”
Sally Williamson, in keeping with her mother’s taste, gravitates towards shades of green in her own garden as well.
Just outside the back door are two Florida Sago palm plants that have been with her more than 17 years in three different homes.
“They aren’t native to South Carolina, but they are a fun reminder of my years living in Florida, and of course they thrive in the hot summers here.”
For Sally, one of the most important aspects of gardening is not fighting the climate but rather working with it. “You have to let nature do its thing and plant accordingly — the extreme heat and humidity will always win the battle over the life of a plant not suited for this area. The best way to do this if you are just starting out is to make sure that you refer to gardening books and magazines that are all about the South — others simply aren’t relevant.”
Sally considers gardening to be more therapeutic than any medicine. Following a hard day of work, just sitting down with a glass of wine and taking it all in is as good as it gets, she says. “I love feeling close to God’s creation and seeing the beauty of it all around me.”
“All of this makes me sound like a gentile lady-of-leisure gardener,” Sally says, “when what I really am is a darn hard yard and garden worker. I don’t like gloves, and I have the hands and nails to prove it.”
Sally Williamson’s Tips for Success
Let nature do its thing. Don’t try to fight it, but plan and plant accordingly. Work with and be respectful of the intensity of our climate.
Don’t apply instruction from generic gardening articles that are not specific to the South — when a plant is considered to take direct sunlight, it often does not mean South Carolina direct sunlight. It’s important also to learn about your zone within the South.
It pays to wait and see what the seasons will do — jumping too quickly to decisions you learn the hard way and lose some things that first year. It is very important to see how the seasons will affect your property as it will cost time, money and frustration to be overly hasty.
Less is more, as it can be easy to overplant. Don’t underestimate simplicity.