When Columbia Green wanted to include Jennifer and Chuck Todd’s home in its annual Festival of Gardens tour, Jennifer remembers saying that all her garden had to offer was brick and boxwoods. She was being modest. Long-time co-owners of Todd & Moore sporting goods store, Jennifer and Chuck have created an elegant, formal garden replete with many interesting shades, textures, and scents right across the street from the Forest Lake Club’s golf course.
American boxwoods were selected for the front of the house in the final stages of construction in 1993. Masonry contractor Ernest Washington completed the elegant brickwork in 2004. Countless iterations of the garden in the ensuing years have shaped a series of intimate, outdoor rooms anchored by well-established trees. Beds are filled with beautiful plants, including Lenten rose, fern, impatiens, sage, spiraea, lantana, camellia, mock orange, and caladium. Jennifer faithfully digs up the caladium bulbs to store them in peat moss in her garage each winter, and in the steamy Columbia summer her garden boasts the cool reds, pinks, greens, and whites that only caladium can provide. Also blooming as spring gives way to summer are various hydrangeas, including the ‘Annabelle’ variety, along with both big-leaf and snowball viburnum.
During construction in 1993, Jennifer and Chuck preserved water oak, wax myrtle, and other hardwood trees and cleared the lot of all but one pine tree. Over time, the couple gradually added more hardwoods. The lone pine tree sits at the back of a lot that is three times deeper than its width, so it is far away from anyone’s house. Jennifer says, “I had an arborist tell me, ‘Keep it. It’s your lightning rod. The lightning will hit that before your house.’”
Impressive ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple trees flank the drive. And in the backyard, Jennifer dedicated an entire bed to a gorgeous lace-leaf Japanese maple that grows horizontally. She bought the latter from the “maple tree guy” at the S.C. State Farmers’ Market. ‘Oshio-Beni’ Japanese maples, brought home from Walmart as tiny saplings decades ago, have joined the other slow-growing specimens in reaching impressive heights. Patience has rewarded Jennifer with beautiful trees.
“My fringe tree is one of my favorites,” says Jennifer. “I got a little twig from the botanical gardens at the zoo, and it blooms white all over at the end of April. It’s turned into a great tree.” With low, horizontal branches, the delightful fringe tree is perfect for children to climb in any season. It is in a section of the garden that Jennifer created with her granddaughter, Louise, who is 10. Louise shares the play area with her brother, William, 8; and cousins Charles, 5, and Cecil, 1.
A lush carpet of moss grows naturally in the shaded areas, and a sunnier cutting garden boasts masses of phlox, daisies, and sunflowers with a bright groundcover of the perennial herb Green and Gold.
“This is a really fun plant, Green and Gold,” says Jennifer. “It came from my parents’ house. One little sprig.” A member of the aster family with light green leaves and splashy yellow flowers, Green and Gold is at its peak in May. Near the Green and Gold laden beds are half a dozen similarly hued hosta plants that were not coordinated on purpose. “Mother bought six hostas from Sam’s. She put them in too much sun, so I ended up with them.”
Jennifer has always kept a stack of notebooks with information about the plants in her garden, taking note of what worked and what did not and keeping each plant tag. “I keep a record of every plant. And then I take pictures. And then I write, ‘That died,’” Jennifer says with a laugh. Recently a sizeable loquat tree planted against a garage wall did die, and Jennifer studied before and after pictures of the wall before replacing the tree with three cleyera plants. Loquat trees are particularly sensitive to cold, and Jennifer is pragmatic about the potential of losing another. She put a lot of thought into choosing cleyeras to replace the large loquat, knowing in advance that she will have to work to keep them shaped the way she would like.
Jennifer, who does her homework, already has an extensive list of gardening chores for the fall. In the early stages of establishing her garden, she relied on Southern Living gardening books and information from horticulture professor Michael Dirr. She clipped Orene Horton’s gardening columns from The State newspaper to keep in her journal, too.
In addition to her notes, Jennifer says, “I have a whole library of garden books, but now I get the tag, I punch a button and just read all about it. Then I see a video of how to plant it. You can go down a rabbit hole and never get out in your yard because you’re looking at something on a computer.”
Jennifer had fun on the Columbia Green Tour of Spring Lake Road, Lakeshore Drive, and Eastshore Circle. The garden club chooses a different neighborhood each year for its tour, and she enjoys walking through the various gardens. She also regularly visits the Riverbanks Zoo Botanical Gardens as well as Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, and she frequents local garden centers for inspiration. “I go to all of them. I love watching ‘Making It Grow’ [produced by SCETV and Clemson University]. I love looking at different plants and learning the names of them. I’m a gardening nerd.”
Despite her own extensive knowledge, Jennifer welcomes both advice and help when it comes to planting and maintaining her garden. In the early stages, she consulted the late landscape architect George Betsill as well as sought guidance from local gardeners Ed Cooper, Ruthie Lacey, and Mary T. Dial.
Adding the brickwork to the backyard in 2003, nearly 10 years after the Todds’ home was built, was landscape designer Ruthie Lacey’s idea. A drainage problem was making it difficult to grow grass. Not only did the brick divert water, it divided the deep backyard into a series of intimate, organized spaces. When the bricked areas were complete, Jennifer moved a wooden pergola farther back to serve as an entrance to the less formal areas of the expansive yard.
“I get Sox and Freeman every other year to trim the crepe myrtles. They know what they’re doing,” Jennifer says. Several white ‘Natchez’ crepe myrtles anchor the landscape, along with both ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ magnolias. Yoshino cherry trees, a neighborhood tradition, are near the street. In the beginning, the Todds’ circular driveway featured live oaks, but when they failed to thrive, Jennifer replaced them with a beautiful mass planting of ‘Knock Out’ roses; she ordered 42 bushes from a nursery in Alabama, long before the shrubs became a staple of Southern gardens.
Jennifer bemoans the fact that the many magnolia trees in her yard have fallen victim to false oleander scale, which causes white spots to form on the leaves. “You can treat scale on sasanquas,” Jennifer says, “but nothing can be done for this. It’s at Brookgreen. It’s everywhere. They’re not going to die. They’re just not pretty.”
Gaston Fairey of Capital Improvements regularly maintains the yard. “He’s my sister’s nephew,” Jennifer says. “They do a great job. I would give up cable TV for the blowing and mowing.”
Jennifer and her mother planted tea olives from Cooper’s Nursery along the edge of the driveway next to the house, and, 24 years later, the fragrant, blooming shrubs are so large that birds nest in them. Two orange tea olives in the backyard came from Jennifer’s grandparents’ home in Greenwood. Unlike the white tea olives, the orange variety blooms only once a year, Jennifer says.
Along with heirloom plants, Jennifer and her three younger sisters have inherited years of gardening knowledge from their family. When Jennifer’s parents moved from Spring Valley to Forest Lake, her mother, Pierrine Johnson, divided many plants so they could take bits of their old garden with them. Recently, all the ladies visited their old home at the invitation of the new homeowners to walk around the yard. “They’re gardeners,” Jennifer says. “Isn’t that a good feeling?”
The Todds’ adult children continue the tradition of gardening — their daughter, Pierrine, with many magnolias in Tennessee, and their son, Charlie, with boxwoods on a patio in New York City. Jennifer’s mother, still the matriarch, continues to establish a high standard when it comes to gardening.
“Oh, my gosh,” says Jennifer. “You ought to see her yard! Once she gets in the garden, she’s so busy, and she’s going down to Forest Lake Gardens and buying one more thing. She’s always sharing and dividing.”