If any season might be greeted with a welcome hug, it’s this first weekend of spring.
Brookgreen Gardens will get the new season going Saturday with its annual “Diggin’ It” garden festival, and Huntington Beach State Park still had some openings as of Tuesday for its “Atalaya Sleepover,” March 29-30. Various parks also will soon fill up with art, festivals and music.
Sara Millar, vice president of horticulture and conservation at Brookgreen, said after this “long, cold winter ... we are all ready to get back to gardening.”
This “very cold winter” overall, “even before the ice storms,” damaged many of the gardens’ seasonal plantings significantly, she said.
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“We plant the seasonal beds for the spring season in October,” Millar said. “This year, we are doing extra planting this spring to replace many of the plantings that unfortunately, had to be removed. In addition, many semi-tropical plants or tender perennials are not expected to over-winter this year as they have in years past.”
Grading the gardens’ state, Millar looked up, positively, for this seasonal transition this spring.
“The long cold snap is good for many plants,” she said, “including spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinthoides. Many plants need cold conditions for full dormancy, cold period and vernalization. The silver lining to this cold winter is we expect spring-flowering shrubs like azaleas and spiraea to put on quite a show this spring. We have noticed in past years: The colder the winter, the better the bud set and subsequent flowering.”
In Brookgreen’s final days of preparations this week for “Diggin’ It,” Millar said besides expecting “great weather” on Saturday, speakers will cover a range of topics, “from an inspirational discussion on horticulture to gardening in the Southeast, to being environmentally friendly in your horticultural practices.”
Demonstrations lined up will include photographing spring flowers, “because garden photography is always an extremely popular topic,” Millar said, and proper pruning of crape myrtles, “a popular landscape plant.”
Ann Malys Wilson, senior interpretive ranger at Myrtle Beach State Park, is happy to trade in a winter she summarized in four words – “cold, dreary, rainy and cloudy” – for “a sunshine-filled day ... to make everyone’s day better and healthier.”
“Spring is slowly coming,” she said. “I think many of us will really appreciate it this year after this winter.”
Despite the long cold snap, a variety of birds have been seen close to the park pier all winter, Wilson said, grateful for “great looks at black scoters, horned grebes, red-breasted mergansers, red-throated and common loons.”
“A common eider was seen throughout the winter plucking food right off the pier pilings,” she said. “It was pretty cool to look down and see a bird more common to the North directly below you. Dolphins have also been sighted pretty regularly swimming very close to shore, slapping their flukes after most dives. They have also been swimming pretty close to the pier, which isn’t always the case.”
Wilson called the jetty at Huntington Beach State Park, 20 miles south, “the hot spot this winter,” with three species of scoters, common eider, long-tailed ducks, and even a harbor seal.”
“One reason we may be seeing so many unusual ducks,” said Mike Walker, an interpretive ranger at Huntington Beach, “ is that a greater percentage of the Great Lakes froze over than normal, forcing many of them south.”
Richard Camlin, senior interpreter at Hobcaw Barony, just north of Georgetown, called Mother Nature’s cycle late this year.
“We had a brief start with pine pollen, he said, then it got cold again and I haven’t noticed any more. The snowdrops in Friendfield Village came up a little late this year. In the past, the warm winters have had them blooming by the end of February. They just hit their peak last week. I saw a covey of quail near Bellefield the other day. There are a few sightings a year, and this was the first one for me this year. I’m always excited to see them.”
Seeing small alligators sunning themselves by a pond or on a swamp log also has warmed up Camlin’s meter for spring.
“These gators are now 4 years old and a little over a foot long,” he said. “We saw them during camp right after they hatched, and there have been a few there each year. The mother was still with them early last year. They usually are with them for about two years.”
Buddy Cox, owner of Southland Nursery Landscaping Inc. in Conway and just north of near Forestbrook community, rated this winter the worst he can remember in his 42 years of business, being “all hemmed up and all hemmed in” continuously.
In this “awfully late winter,” he said customer traffic has lagged behind its usual trend by mid-March.
“Our spring usually kicks off the second week of February,” Cox said, “then by March 1, we’re really busy.”
Combining wet with cold conditions this year, he said, “every week so far, we’ve had more bad than good days.”
Yet, he stressed patience, and soon, people will fulfill their hunger for color in the landscape, as such plantings as Bradford pears, then azaleas and dogwoods and others, will radiate “to get some brightness in their lives and in their yards.”
Cox also shared a few tips as spring settles in:
• Weeds that pop up at this point in lawns probably are “late winter weeds,” and they just need mowing, to make them die off on their own, preventing their growth enough to develop seed pod.
• Hold off on fertilizing grass for the first time this year until it’s fully green, which “might even be April, or late April.”
• Don’t use “weed-and-feed” products on “centipede sod or grass” until it’s at least three years old, after enough time to set roots down.
• Be patient: Give grass time to come out, keep it mowed regularly, and if weeds turn up, try some spot weed killer, vs. covering the whole lawn, to see if that controls them.
Cleaning up winter’s wrath
Two ice storms within three weeks by mid-February left many area sites reeling.
Myrtle Beach State Park’s Wilson said last weekend that park crews were “still cleaning up” from the second storm.
“It’s in my top six worst storm damage to the park of my 20-year career here,” she said.
At Huntington Beach State Park, where cleanup rolls on, Walker puts the damage “in the top three to four storms I have experienced in my 23-year career.”
Hobcaw Barony’s Camlin spoke about the heavy storm remnants.
“We hit the roads the day after the storm to clear fallen limbs and trees,” he said. “We cleared 12 miles of road that first day, which left us another 78 miles get open. The yards had lots of oak limbs down and a couple of trees, but they were cleared pretty fast. ... The sound of crashing limbs was constant and there is no way words can explain what it was like to be in the middle of the forest with everything iced over.”
At Brookgreen, Millar called this “the most challenging winter we have seen in a while,” with minimal damage from the first ice storm, but “quite an impact” from the second.
“Everyone on staff, as well as volunteers, were in the gardens the day after the second ice storm,” she said, “working diligently as a team so the gardens could be reopened the following day.”
The ice accumulation “wrecked havoc” on many trees across the property, but left no severe damage in the gardens’ historical collection, Millar said. Pine trees, live oaks and southern magnolias were the species hit the hardest.
“We rented additional heavy machinery,” she said, “including a hydraulic lift, dump truck, and backhoe to utilize during the cleanup process. The top priority was clearing the roads and sidewalks throughout the property and removing any dangerous limbs that hung over sidewalks, benches, and other places that visitors congregate. After all the safety needs were addressed, we continued cleaning throughout the property and restoring the gardens. Over a month later, cleanup is still ongoing, and the property is reassessed on a daily basis.”
A Socastee couple from the A&E reality series “Shipping Wars” got involved with spring cleaning and disaster relief on a big scale in Georgetown County after that second ice storm. Travelers plying S.C. state highways of late, especially inland, might see many big broken limbs and tree debris along the sides of roads, and the immense clearing that entails.
Christopher Hanna, owner of Palmetto Yacht Management, said he and his girlfriend and office administrator, Robbie Welsh, said they have provided transportation services.
“Our involvement began after a random delivery of a piece of equipment to the Georgetown recycling center,” Hanna said. “Once delivered, they asked if we had any equipment that could aid in the process of cleanup.”
Hanna said his transport company obtained use of two large dump trailers from Texas-based Big Tex Trailers and that it continues working with two tree-service firms as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The busiest road we have cleared has been S.C. 51 at the junction of U.S. 701,” Hanna said. “Now we are working to clear more of the neighborhood side roads.”
He also said, “by far,” this kind of cleanup in his profession has the been most different kind of spring cleanup project he and Welsh had had in their profession.
“It’s been a learning experience,” he said.
Down the road, look for Hanna and Welsh on the forthcoming fourth – their third – season of “Shipping Wars” on A&E.