60,000 bulbs to create new wave of color at Brookgreen Gardens

dbryant@thesunnews.comJune 4, 2013 

Massive plantings of bulbs are nothing new for Brookgreen Gardens. But the attraction has never done one quite like this.

Roughly 60,000 caladium bulbs -- 30 different types of the leafy tropical elephant ear plant including pink, red, green, white, striped, solid, speckled -- started going in the ground Tuesday in the Live Oak Allee, representing the attraction’s largest summer planting and the first time plants will cover the allee during the summer.

The leafy plants should be popping up in a couple of weeks, and they should hang around until the fall.

“It’s going to be a solid wave of color,” said longtime Brookgreen volunteer Robert Quill, one of 14 volunteers who kicked off the planting project Tuesday morning.

The massive planting is part of a recent strategy to try new plantings in some sections of Brookgreen, open up other areas that were previously closed to the public and add new events and features such as the Enchanted Storybook Forest reading and play area to the sprawling grounds, which was named one of the top 10 public gardens in the United States by TripAdvisor in April.

The goal is to keep Brookgreen, a nonprofit off U.S. 17 between Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island that also features a 1,400-piece sculpture collection, evolving with new offerings.

The Live Oak Allee, known as the heart of the gardens, has seen its share of spring flowers such as daffodils and tulips, but this is the first time summer plants will blanket the area, which is lined with six 250-year-old live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, their limbs covered with resurrection ferns.

“This is just the perfect environment,” said Sara Millar, Brookgreen’s vice president of horticulture. “They will really brighten up this area. By the end of June, this area should be packed and beautiful.”

Several of the regular, longtime volunteers planting Tuesday remember when the allee was tangled in ivy -- they helped get rid of it years ago.

Now they are eager to help transform the allee again -- not minding the muddy ground, sweaty work and even the appearance of a banded water snake during their day of work. Many of them volunteer at Brookgreen at least one day a week.

“I don’t think I can get much dirtier,” volunteer Joan Wood said after surveying black mud blobs on her pants and covering her garden gloves from the nearly two hours she had been dropping bulbs. “We’ve never done this size [of a planting] but I think it is going to be marvelous... And you come back later when they start to grow and you say, ‘I had a little hand in this.’”

All the bulbs are expected to be in the ground by the end of the week, with the extras headed to other parts of the gardens.

The caladiums in the allee are arranged by color, with Millar orchestrating the effort, scribbling caladium names such as pink Fannie Munson on labels to stick in the ground marking which of the 35 versions of the leafy plant went where. She also double checked to make sure every one of the 3-inch deep holes that Brookgreen workers drilled in the ground got a bulb.

“We do what they tell us and it comes out beautiful,” Quill said.

Many volunteers already have a vision of what the finished product will look like, but are still eager to see the real thing in a few weeks.

Volunteer Sallie Crow has helped in plenty of plantings at Brookgreen through the years, but “not this extreme.

“This is a first. It’s going to be glorious,” she said, not pausing from dropping the pink TomTom bulbs in the holes, methodically covering them with a swipe of soggy soil then giving them a firm press into the ground. “I can’t wait to come back in July.”

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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