The Kinder Garden

Anne and Whit delve into botanical literature

By Melissa Andrews

Photography by Emily Clay

It doesn’t matter the size of a garden in order for it to make a statement. Whether it’s thousands of acres or just a few feet, if it’s created with love and receives the attention it is due, a garden can flourish, explode with color and fragrance, and create a backdrop fit for a fairy tale or photo shoot.

So it is for Anne and Whit Kinder and their garden in Columbia. Nearly three years ago, Anne moved from her previous residence and its vast garden to her home today that only has space for a small garden. The change in size didn’t alter Anne’s passion; in fact, the smaller the garden, the greater her creativity. She found it fun to go from something rambling and big to something more minimal. It was a challenge for her to see what she could do with a limited space. Finding plants and flowers that complement each other without fighting for space and shouting for attention could have been a challenge — but not for Anne.

One step into the Kinder’s lush outdoor oasis feels like taking a step into the secret garden. Greenery envelopes almost every inch of the space — from the luscious plants on the ground to the trees and bushes that line the walls of the backyard — providing the utmost privacy and quiet solitude. Anne and Whit lived in Charleston for many years, giving her ample opportunity to tour the small-scale gardens of the city, which also filled her with inspiration.  

Anne has always had an affinity for gardening, and not just because of the beauty of the foliage. For her, it goes deeper, back to the history of the plant, the botanical research and the stories behind them. “I’ve always been interested in gardening,” says Anne. “My grandfather, loved gardening and flowers, and I started gardens of my own when I was young. I like to look up the history of the plants and flowers; you can find a lot of literature on them.” 

Anne researches the varieties of plants and flowers that she plans to feature in her gardens, and those that she selects are sure to hold a special place in her heart, each one reminding her of something or bringing back memories of gardens she has cultivated in the past. In some cases, Anne has chosen a plant or tree based on ones she has seen at Riverbanks Botanical Gardens in Columbia. 

“I pick the things I can grow in this limited space that I have an attachment to because of the history of the plant … perhaps someone gave me a propagation of a plant they worked with, or I just saw something that struck me,” says Anne. “People have told me a lot of garden tales about the plants they have grown.”

Her garden is fairly formal and features a wide variety of plant specimens, including woody shrubs and trees. A single beautiful Serviceberry tree adorns the garden, providing a focal point in both the fall and spring months. The character of this tree enables it to stand on its own. And, true to fashion, Anne found the history of this tree to be fascinating — some call it a Serviceberry, others a Shadbush and still others a Juneberry. A botany professor at the University of South Carolina first introduced Anne to the Serviceberry. According to history, it was generally a mountain tree and got the name of Serviceberry because when it bloomed, this was proof that the ground was no longer solid and funerals could then be held for those who had died. “All of these plants and trees have wonderful stories to them,” she adds.

Anne’s backyard oasis also features four different kinds of magnolias, some deciduous and some not. Like many who are fortunate to have these glorious trees in their yards, Anne lets her magnolias grow as big as they want to grow. She also has smaller bay magnolias, which she finds equally unique and often overlooked. “In a space-constrained garden, you have to look for smaller trees,” she advises. “The growers develop smaller varieties of the larger blossoms that are so familiar to people as they understand that not everyone can have large trees in their yards.” The Kinders do have two stately live oaks in their front yard, which Anne says was her husband’s contribution.

Hostas and ferns provide lush greenery and low maintenance throughout this garden, while gardenias, a Southern staple, provide a sweet fragrance and delicate, elegant white flowers. The perfumed scent of the gardenia is complemented by the light aroma of her tea olives. Large white azaleas alert the coming of spring and add a freshness to the space. Laurels deliver a rich greenness, as foundation plants enhance the area and tie the space together. Even though they are stubborn, eye-catching hydrangeas are included in the garden and regularly fed with used coffee grounds.

While Anne’s garden is predominately green, glorious pops of color can be found throughout, especially with her large variety of old, or antique, roses. Some are heritage, and some date back to the 1600s — again providing that brush with history. 

“Old roses are a weakness of mine,” says Anne. “My garden club sponsors an exhibit at the South Carolina State Fair and most of our members grow them. I like the paler colors and enjoy reading up on their history. They are such resolute plants. They come back in cemeteries or when they are abandoned. They still continue to grow on their own. A lot could be said about the fortitude of a flower — it’s not just the beauty, it’s the strength that they exhibit that makes their beauty multiply.”

Anne knows what she likes, and she has worked hard to ensure the plants and flowers she favors are able to grow in her environment. Soil is a huge element in creating a successful garden. The Kinders have heavy clay soil which is a challenge, so they had some of the clay removed and substituted it with good, rich soil. Enough clay was removed to establish mature trees and shrubs, and, of course, the old roses, which fortunately thrive in a clay-heavy soil. A small, flawless area of grass frames the garden.

A quaint brick outbuilding, which houses all of Anne’s tools, is nestled in the back of the yard and blends in beautifully with the walls of the garden. The charming brick porches beckon any guest to take a respite and soak in the lovely, peaceful view. She doesn’t have a great deal of furniture or decorations, only those adornments that are particularly special to her, which she carefully situates in spots throughout the garden. Her favorite is a small garden ornament that Merritt Barrow, her daughter, gave her of a little English boy reading a book. Merritt found it in Florida, and it reminded her of her mother, always reading, researching and learning.

Anne understands that gardening can also be a thankless undertaking. A gardener can spend hours tending to a plant, a flower, a vegetable, but that plant may not want to return the favor. “You have to love it or you won’t do it,” adds Anne. “Don’t plant an intricate garden and not be prepared to suffer through. Flowers are hard; you will put in a lot of time, and they will disappoint you.” 

She has heard excellent gardeners say that a certain plant didn’t earn a place in their yard because they just wouldn’t bloom. Anne advises to pick one or two shrubs, plant them and enjoy them. Hydrangeas are a great place to start, as they go with anything and can be cut and brought into the house to enjoy.

One of the overriding qualities of Anne’s garden is a strong sense of peace. “Gardens are all absorbing,” she says. “It’s therapy. You can go out there and have a million things going through your head and when you come back in, everything is clear.” 

While her garden is an antidote to the day’s stressors, Anne isn’t one to just go sit and revel in its beauty. Her love of gardening also extends to her mountain house, where she has a larger garden and may spend more time sitting. But not here. “There is always work to do,” she says. “If I go in the garden, I have a task. I don’t sit on a bench; I’m usually busy.” After all, people play tennis, they play golf, but they work in the garden.

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