Springtime Planting

The Irvins keep change as the only constant in their creative yard

By Margaret Clay

Photography by Emily Clay

Warren Irvin’s love for plants first sprouted in his youth in observing his father’s passion for roses. “As a boy growing up across the street from where I live now, I watched what joy my father had while working in his rose garden,” says Warren. “Although it was hard work, he was meticulous in his selection of roses, their planting and care, and he always took time to help others who asked for his advice for their gardens. As a result of his efforts, our house was adorned with roses all spring and summer.”

Dr. Warren Irvin, Jr., Warren’s father, soon turned his interests toward greenhouse plants, and with the help of Owen Holmes of Carter and Holmes Nurseries in Newberry, he built a splendid backyard greenhouse where he raised orchids and other tropical plants year-round.

Warren enjoys the creativity of springtime planting and working outside as well as incorporating lots of color, even if it is short lived. He also has always been attracted to unusual plants. “I tire of some plants quickly and don’t mind replacing them to keep things fresh and different,” he explains. “I don’t have a long term set vision for my yard except to keep it interesting and to make changes that suit my mood at the time. Success for me is having someone ask the name of something unusual I’ve gotten to work in a particular place in the yard, and I can remember its name.”

One aspect of gardening that does not suit Warren’s fancy, nor that of many gardeners, is the maintenance. Alvaro Valentin helps him weekly in the spring and summer and is very knowledgeable about planting as well. “I always need someone coming along behind me, and Alvaro’s the man in the yard,” Warren says with a smile.

As a real estate developer, Warren enjoys creating projects in his mind and then taking the action to see them come to fruition, an aspect he enjoys in gardening as well. “My yard is like my development business, I like to create things, watch them until completion and then move on to another project.” He and Terri, his wife, have two children, Warren and Maggie. While he creates individual pockets of plants that lead to different spaces in the yard, he is always mindful of his children’s need for open play space.

The front yard is a perfect blend of well-designed planted areas flowing with the landscape and of open grassy space. A crisp slate walkway with two small brick columns at the end gives the yard defined symmetry and order, and the columns are complete with stone carvings of the traditional fruit of welcome — pineapples. Trees of varying sizes anchor each area of landscaped plants. 

In the upper right-hand side of the front of the house above the window are three holes in a triangle that act as intentional bird houses for House Wrens and other house-nesting fowl. 

Along the right side of the house, the slate path branches off from the main walk and weaves through a side gate that Warren designed to incorporate some circular floor vents that he found back in the mid-80s when he restored and converted the old Crafts School in downtown Charleston into condominiums. The iron work of these vents was done by hand and has a beautiful design that works well with the simple design of the gate.

In back of the house is a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by various outdoor rooms which flow organically into one another. The back porch has wicker chairs surrounded by side tables and lamps, creating the perfect reading spot. This porch flows seamlessly into the patio overlooking the pool which features ample sitting space with an outdoor sofa and cushioned rocking chairs. On either side of the patio is another space of open grass — the perfect size for play. 

Proceeding toward the pool from the patio, the pool deck is similarly arranged strategically for social engagement. A small wrought iron table and set of chairs create the perfect spot for dinner for two on a summer evening or for children to eat a quick lunch in between swimming games. On the back side of the pool are two cushioned lounge chairs that are very alluring for an afternoon siesta or sunbath. 

“We spend a lot of time outside, eight months out of the year, and we like to do our entertaining by integrating inside and outside spaces,” says Warren. “Unless it’s brutally hot, we like the outside feel. I get up early every morning and read the newspapers on the porch and enjoy the quiet before TVs start blaring.”

In a small graveled space off one side of the pool a lovely stone fountain is surrounded by gardenias and other greenery. “I found this fountain at Hay Hill Garden Market and knew it was the perfect shape for a stand-alone feature, which is how I’m using it now; however, that’s always subject to change,” says Warren.

And with Warren, change in the garden is always to be expected.

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