Myrtle Island homeowner balances formal garden with whimsical touches

Peggy Parker is a gardener with an endearing, oversized personality. She brings out the best in the array of plants she grows and the people with whom she engages — and there are many of both.

She is conventional and unconventional; she is who she is. She loves symmetry, order, creativity and adventure. Nowhere is this more evident than her garden.

peggy garden3For example: The frog planters adorned with flowers at the entrance to her 1.5-acre home on Myrtle Island in Bluffton — her way of greeting friends. The frog on the right has a “happy” face, welcoming those who enter the grounds. The frog planter on the other side of the driveway has a “sad” face, because those same people are leaving.

Hundreds of gardening enthusiasts got a chance to explore her blooms during the All Saints Garden Tour in May. She was a grand host and enlisted a two-piece jazz band to perform in the afternoon on her backyard patio.

The Charleston native bought the sun-drenched property in 2010 after doing little more than passing through the area on her way to Hilton Head Island, where she served on Community Foundation of the Lowcountry’s board of directors, representing Hampton County.

After living in Hampton County for four decades, she decided to move on and out.

“Let me see what this Bluffton is about,” she recalled thinking. “I didn’t know one soul here. I started a whole new life, a new adventure.”

She didn’t have to dig deep into her memory bank to unearth pleasant childhood memories of Charleston—and its formal, English-style gardens.

“The first thing I created (in Bluffton) was the Charleston garden on the right side of the home,” she said. “I wanted to recreate Charleston in the Lowcountry.”

She has her grandmother to thank for that.

peggy garden2

“My grandmother lived in the older part of Charleston, and I would spend a week with her in the summertime,” Parker recalled. “We would take strolls and look through gates and over fences and brick walls, and we would see formal gardens … I like everything in the right place, symmetrical and planned, and that appealed to me.”

That’s one side of her gardening personality; the other is more free-wheeling.

A friend called her design a “mullet garden.” And that’s just fine with Parker, who also is a street photographer and a jazz drummer.

“That means business in the front and a party in the back,” she said.

She enlarged the swimming pool on her backyard patio, installed an accessibility ramp for some of her friends, and built a ceramic-style bed along the water’s edge with “blue haze” flowers and gerbera daisies for a hint of color.

peggy garden6

She also created a “sweet, wispy and move in the breeze” fern garden, one of her favorite plants.

Then she moved on to the wide-open backyard. There, you’ll find partner Sally Hiers’ vegetable garden, full of ripe tomatoes, and lush border greenery. An Asian bamboo/cane enclave also makes its exotic presence known, and an elevated path made of “tiny little conch shells” leads to the water.

In the front yard, Parker removed many of the azaleas that had grown into a wall sheltering her property from the outside world. Instead, she added a centerpiece fountain and formal garden, with boxwoods offering form, symmetry and texture and camellias adding color.

Given nature’s volatility along the May River, she installed a retaining wall to prevent any water damage to her property.

peggy garden5

Parker’s mother describes the unique space as a nest; it’s clear that Parker has made herself at home. And with the help of gardener friends — like Bluffton native Deidra Chazis — both she and the property are blossoming.

Greening the Garden

Lowcountry ferns love shade, good drainage and moist, slightly acidic organic soil. They’re hardy, heat and cold tolerant, and a welcome pleasure for their textures, shapes, sizes and colors — think various shades of green.

These deciduous plants spread themselves through rhizomes or spores, not seeds. They don’t need much attention, but they can’t be neglected, either.

peggy garden4

Among the most popular ferns for Lowcountry gardens are the sword, foxtail, autumn, holly, asparagus, Kimberley and cinnamon. Ferns are excellent choices for ground cover or as specimen plants and in backgrounds and borders.

Successfully maintaining your ferns requires a few basic steps. Be sure to allow plenty of space between each fern — they spread wide above and underground and grow up to 6 feet tall, so they need room to grow. You’ll also want to plant them in part to full shade in wooded areas in rich, well-drained soil, so the afternoon sun won’t dry them out. Also, be sure to add a 2-inch humus-filled layer atop the 10-inch-wide hole to enrich the soil and retain moisture. Many ferns need added moisture during their early growing season.

Fertilize and mulch the ferns in the spring with a 2- to 3-inch layer of leaves or pine straw when new growth has begun.

peggy garden7

And you’re in luck: Fall is a perfect time to plant ferns.