In 1951, a glorious home was built in Orangeburg, its three acres and immaculate grounds serving as a jewel in the small Southern city. More than 60 years later, Ray and Bob Sabalis carry on the tradition of her parents and grandparents, now calling this estate their home. Mr. and Mrs. William W. Wannamaker, Jr., her grandparents, built the house and enlisted the help of Loutrel Briggs, a well-known landscape architect originally from New York, who made Charleston his home, developing beautiful historic gardens throughout the city.
Briggs designed the yard in full, from the driveways to the walkways, the walls, the patios, and the rose garden. When Ray and Bob moved into the home in 2012, the bones and foundation of what Briggs had created were still there, but the yard needed some refreshing. The Sabalises called on Elizabeth Rice, a talented Columbia landscape architect and designer, for assistance. Elizabeth took Briggs’ design and built from that. “I adore this house,” says Elizabeth. “It has so many innovative architectural features. The design of the yard needed to complement Briggs’ original plan because his work was so wonderful. It was important to stay true to his design concept, but I did want to make a few tweaks and modernize and simplify his design.”
Symmetry was also very important to the plan. Elizabeth aimed to create a balanced design with wings on each end. She also strived to take the original concept for the grounds and create a yard that was easy to maintain but also just as rich and striking as the original intention for the grounds. “Elizabeth took Briggs’ design and put in plants that were more suitable for mature adults,” says Ray with a laugh. “She wanted to ensure we could easily care for the yard.”
As a part of that, Elizabeth removed many of the plants that required higher maintenance, including a few of the original flower beds in the yard, while not taking away from the color and beauty of the surroundings. “We kept many of the plants and pruned them,” says Elizabeth. “We also added some that were appropriate to Loutrel Briggs’ original planting design.”
The flowers of many of the plants provide exquisite coloring throughout the seasons. The intricate design and subtle shades of the more than 35 camellias, the bursting colors from the hydrangeas and azaleas, the pink foliage of the nandina, and the sweet aroma of the crisp white gardenia fill the space at varying times throughout the year. These plants, while low maintenance, provide a beautiful setting for walking through the yard or sipping lemonade on the patio. And when no flowers are in bloom, the rich green tones from the holly bushes, trees, and shrubs create an immaculate, soft backdrop for the balanced architecture. The brick walkway is dotted with holly bushes, all trimmed to perfection. Straight hedging frames the sides of the house.
While the Sabalises removed many of the flowers from the expansive yard, they kept the rose garden and its original brickwork. Typical to Briggs’ love of creating outdoor rooms, the rose garden is a space in and of itself, one in which to relax and enjoy the splendor of the surroundings.
“It was important for us to accent the rose garden,” says Elizabeth. The rose garden sits on a downward slope from the rest of the space, so the Sabalises, at Elizabeth’s suggestion, had grass steps with brick edging added to easily transition from the higher elevation down to the easy-to-maintain ‘knock out’ roses, changed from the original tea roses when they moved in. These steps provide an interesting architectural design to the space, seemingly becoming their own pieces of art nestled in the lawn.
Facing these stairs is a grand statue of Romeo and Juliet that is also original to the home. “There isn’t much we know about that statue,” says Bob. “It’s been there forever, and we take care of it!”
A statuesque live oak sits in the middle of the circular driveway, providing a focal point in the yard. Spanish moss adds to its allure as well as that of other trees on the grounds. The majestic oak tree has been a mainstay since Ray’s grandparents built the house. “This house is going on 70 years old,” says Bob. “The life span of these trees is 60 to 70 years, so we spend a lot of time trimming them, shaping them, and cleaning up after them. We have planted six trees ourselves in order to replace the ones that have expired or will. If we didn’t pay attention to this, the grounds would not look as good and the ambiance would be diminished. It’s so important to care for the yard around you.”
Intricate wrought-iron features add another striking component to the grounds. Wrought-iron planters hug the windows, while a side door is framed with wrought iron so detailed, it appears as beautiful cursive writing spelling out a story to those approaching the door. Wrought-iron columns support the porte-cochere at the back of the house, and a gate with wrought iron in the shape of hearts symbolizes the love found within.
The canvas for the entire grounds is the immaculate grass. The rich green blanket of Zenith Zoysia is exquisitely manicured, and Bob continues to evaluate the ways in which he cares for it. “I trim my grass high, so as not to scalp it. It’s not unheard of for me to mow it twice a week in the summer,” he says. “I always fertilize the grass once a year, but we fertilized it twice this year before the heat struck, and it was amazingly beautiful. I will now fertilize in early spring and in the summer. And I always give it a lot of water. When we moved in, we installed a well in the backyard so we can water to our hearts’ content and not be bankrupted by the water bill!”
The drainage in the yard has also helped to keep the lawn rich and green. The Sabalises called on Hay Hill and its landscape architect, David Stack, to assist in assessing the drainage of the yard. “The Sabalises’ home has an elaborate drainage system, but due to wear and tear and some deterioration, it needed some updates,” said David. The team had a plumbing company come in with cameras to help snake the lines through the drainage system, clearing out clogs and opening up drains that were no longer functional. The complex system, also originally designed by Briggs, has been instrumental in getting water out and directed down the hill in an efficient manner.
For Bob, working in his yard is a treat, even more so during these challenging times. “I used to work in Washington,” he says. “When we moved back, colleagues asked me what I was going to do when I was no longer working with them. I’d say, ‘Pick up sticks!’ They think I am kidding, but there are a lot of tree limbs here. And I enjoy every minute of it. This is my hobby. And lately, I am in the yard every day for three hours. It’s been amazing.”
Bob’s attention to detail and steadfast commitment to the space has kept it beautiful all these years. “Maintenance is nine-tenths of a good landscape,” says Elizabeth. “It’s tremendously important in landscape design. If you have a large, beautiful yard and don’t maintain it, it’s a 2, 3, or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. On the other hand, you can take a small, simple landscape that is well-designed and well-maintained, and it can be an 8, 9, or 10.” Fortunately, Bob has found the recipe for maintaining this large piece of property with attention to detail in every corner of the massive space — a surefire 10!
The team at Hay Hill generally visits the Sabalis home about once a year to perform an annual spring cleaning, shaping up plants and trees that may have gone a bit wild, cleaning out the beds, removing weeds and vines, among other tasks. They also recently redid the driveway, adding a new base and pretty gravel on top while also removing weeds that popped up every season. Recompacting the drive to its like-new state has been the cherry on the top of this exquisite property.
While the Sabalises’ home is a personal retreat for the couple, it also beckons for visitors and inquisitive passersby. “It’s so pleasant to see neighbors drive by and enjoy the view of our home,” says Bob. “Being able to invest in this home and this community has been a joy.” Not to mention, a wonderful place for family. “I love that our yard is so kid-friendly,” says Ray. “I grew up playing in the yard, our kids did, and now our seven grandchildren do. When they leave, for months I will find balls and Frisbees in the bushes. And when they were little, they used to love filling their dump trucks with gravel from the driveway.” Ray also loves the fact that the children use the four boxwoods in the back circle for their soccer goals.
To be sure, the Sabalises took an outstanding design and implemented a few adjustments to make it their own, all while ensuring the design of the grounds will keep its value, beautifully crafted for this generation and those to follow.