By Kathy Conner Cornell
VCE Southside Master Gardener
I’ve been reluctant to write about gardens to visit since so many were closed during the worst of the pandemic. However, things seem to be coasting towards normalcy so I’ll get back to the job of sharing some of the gardens I’ve enjoyed.
The Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden roots go back to growing timber bamboo by Mrs. Smith prior to the Civil War. She remarried and her farm hand, Mr. Dayton sold bamboo shoots to local restaurants and bamboo poles to the locals. He knew that the bamboo would be destroyed by any new owner. (Bamboo is notoriously difficult to kill so I’d like to know how that would happen. A story for another day). He appealed to Dr. David Fairchild, a renowned botanist and plant explorer. Eventually wealthy Barbour Lathrop bought the property and leased it back to Fairchild and the USDA for $1. The USDA used the land to research potential agricultural plants for the Southeast. The USDA started to phase out the research in 1975 and a cost cutting move, closed the facility in 1979.
The Cottage Garden in the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden features primarily white flowers and a lovely gazebo to relax in while enjoying the view.
It was deeded to the University of Georgia in 1983 for education and research. Seeing the property as more than just research, a plan was made to transition to a botanical garden. In 2012 the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden was established. We visited in 2015 so the garden was still in its infancy. It was charming then so should be more so now.
I particularly enjoyed the Orchid Greenhouse. Many orchids and other colorful tropical plants were on display. The crape myrtle allee was beautiful. According to the interpretive sign, the British encountered the shrub in Asia and were mesmerized by its blooms and brought it back to the Mother Country. However, the English climate was not conducive to blooming. The colonists brought it with them to Charleston where it flourished. Crapes love the heat which makes them great landscape choices in urban heat islands from the buildings and sidewalks. The sign also mentioned the very bad habit of “crape murder” that is so prevalent in the South. Hacking off the tops of the crape myrtles does not increase flowering and creates a very ugly shape.
Camellias are another one of the South’s favorite shrubs. The Camellia Garden has both japonica, spring blooming and sasanqua, the fall blooming camellia. Most people do not know that tea comes from Camellia senensis which will grow in our climate and soil. The Camellia Garden holds other types of camellias also.
The Formal Garden has a striking pergola that makes you want to explore the area. Hardscape is a focal of the Cottage Garden with its lovely gazebo. The Rose Garden features roses that are adapted to Southern climates. One thing I learned is that roses need a dormant period to survive for many years. In Savannah, roses may stay green all winter. The interpretive sign suggests pruning in February to force dormancy and extend the life of the plant and promote flowering.
There are many other interesting areas of the garden and the Visitors Center is in a lovely building with a very nice gift shop. Savannah has so much to offer if only to visit some of the buildings shown in the film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. Take the time to visit the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens and keep your eye out for Hard Hearted Hannah, the vamp of Savannah, GA.