Inspiration & Education - 2024 Cassina Garden Club Tabby and Tillandsia Garden Walk

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When it comes to gardening, the members of Cassina Garden Club certainly know a thing or two! The oldest garden club in Glynn County, Cassina was founded in 1928 and currently has more than 130 members. They have been the steadfast stewards and owners of the former Hamilton Plantation tabby slave cabins located at Gascoigne Bluff for more than three quarters of a century. Not only have they completed historic restoration of the cabins and maintained the grounds and gardens there, but they have also been responsible for several other beautification projects on St. Simons Island and around the Golden Isles. Since 2007, the major fundraiser to support their projects has been their annual Tabby and Tillandsia Garden Walk. Considered a traditional rite of spring for many locals and visitors from near and far, the tour offers attendees the opportunity to visit private gardens and grounds opened to the public for the event by generous owners. This year’s Garden Walk is scheduled for Saturday, April 27.

Tour guests visit a variety of six private gardens in various neighborhoods on St. Simons Island. Over the years, there has been a wide variety of featured gardens, some which have been planted and tended by the owners and others that have been initiated by professional designers. Often the gardens incorporate interesting art and statuary and visitors have been treated to a peek in a potting shed or playhouse along the way. Docents are available at each location to provide information about plantings, features, and garden designs. Even non-gardeners enjoy visiting the beautiful stops on the tour and go home inspired.

You won’t want to miss the Members Plant Sale and Garden Party at the cabins for even more inspiration. You’ll find plants cultivated by members that you can take home to care for or plant in your own garden. Artists will be on site creating colorful works you can frame. Bring a beach chair to have a seat and share your favorite Garden Walk experiences and gardening ideas with other guests while enjoying tasty treats, beer, and wine. The Garden Party begins at 3:00 p.m. and is free for everyone to attend, but donations are appreciated.

Here’s a preview of what you can expect to see at this year’s tour stops.

The garden called an “Estate Showstopper” is on a property affectionately known as “the compound” by its neighbors. It brings to mind a country estate with main house, guest house, brick terrace, pool, clay tennis court, “clubhouse” with brick fireplace, and even a “barn” of sorts. Walkways are lined with a variety of ferns, jasmine, African iris, cast-iron plants, camellia, long-leaf pines, and water oaks. Beyond the quaint side gate, you’ll discover Croton window boxes and potted citrus, succulents, coleus, begonias, and boxwood, and wild banana plants. Urns overflow with bromeliads and trailing Hoyas, and a variety of caladiums, philodendrons, ferns, and roses are highlighted by their boxwood surroundings. Other enchanting features include a bed of bright, sunny cosmos that attracts bees and butterflies and is home to a birdhouse for nesting purple martins, a maritime forest of saw palmetto, sego palm, live oaks, Spanish moss, rhododendron, and gardenia, and evergreen hedge with purple clematis-covered arbor surrounding the tennis court.

The stop dubbed “Luxury Coastal Living” is a classic Lowcountry home with wrap-around drive, expansive front lawn, and coastal plantings. A noteworthy feature here is the unique sculpture under the front entry that pays homage to the Bland Farm family sweet onion business. The back yard offers a screened porch, grilling deck, sunny pool, putting green, and fire pit. Quaintly tucked away beyond a tree with a bed of ginger lilies, camellias, hydrangeas, and cast-iron plants is a delightful, pink “dollhouse.” Live oaks, palmetto palms, and muhly grass beckon you toward the bridge and dock on Dunbar Creek.

The landscaping at the brick ranch that’s the site of the “Home Gardener Delight,” will make you feel surrounded by comfort and privacy. There are beds of begonia, ginger lilies, daylilies, and azaleas in the front, an herb garden, and raised vegetable beds in the back. Non-invasive bamboo is used as side-yard screening. Pots and plantings of blue daze hibiscus, Cana lilies, African iris, and miniature date palm add floral appeal to the pool area, which is anchored by a gorgeous purple tibouchina. Vermillion, firecracker plants, and vinca against a background of evergreen enhance the walkway and border. A year-round sun porch, brick fire pit and wrought-iron seating ensure that this beautiful yard can be enjoyed in every season.

Happiness is what you feel when you visit the bright and joyous and bright stop known as “Nature’s Cottage Garden.” The home gardener who lives here loves the randomness of Mother Nature in addition to the thoughtful use of plantings: “Where the seed lands, it grows.” Various fruit trees, including figs, sago palms, white shell ginger plants, and other native plantings thrive along the paths, as do agapanthus, monkey paw, and blue ageratum. A screened studio/summer kitchen, koi pond, and the raised bed vegetable garden with Confederate jasmine-covered trellis and white picket fence are just some of the charming features you’ll see.  From the sense of peace and serenity to the personal touch of camellias and white shell ginger lily from a family home on Isle of Hope, this cottage garden surrounds you in its warm and welcoming embrace.

Perhaps, not your typical garden locale, but the tiered landscaped areas and unique Moorish-Spanish manor house at “Villa de Suenos” wows visitors nonetheless. Once you enter the villa’s gated entrance, pay attention to the special touches that tell reveal the home’s history, like the antique birdcage now filled with seasonal plantings, and the horse fountain in the porte-cochere and a lower level that was built as a stable for the original owners’ beloved equine resident. Terracotta roof tiles and the repeated use of arches, old-world ironwork, jasmine and fig vines, olive trees, and palms transport you to the Old World. There are garden vignettes, an herb garden area that flows to mixed seasonal flowers, evergreens, and eucalyptus, and to a hydrangea garden that leads to the corner garden of azaleas, camellias, and hydrangeas anchored by two Japanese maples, an old oak tree, and a sand palm. As you ascend the stairs of the main-level central courtyard with shrubs, potted olive tree, and date palm, you’ll have a breathtaking view of the inlet.  and beyond. A long infinity pool flanked by a bed of sunflowers and coneflowers and a hot tub center the courtyard. Stairs leading down to the first level’s putting green, a side yard sitting area surrounded by mondo grass with a vintage garden statue. The beach level tier includes the “orchid graveyard,” holly and fig bushes, mixed native plantings, and lawn to the Gould Inlet’s rock seawall.

At the end of the day, there’s one last stop: the Cassina Cabins and gardens. The gardens, which underwent extensive restructuring between 2022-2023 are a special showcase of our island’s native plants. Standing at the fence entrance, you can appreciate the “Garden Rooms” style of design. An expanded Butterfly Garden Room to your right blooms with milkweed and other native flowers that attract Monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, and a myriad of visiting butterflies. The Historical Garden Quadrant Room located directly ahead of you was designed in four quadrants to represent different historic eras for the island: Native American (1700s); American Revolutionary War (1770-1790); Plantation (1830-1865); and Lumber Days and Beyond (1900-present day). Plants were installed after careful research with several community collaborators and the use of a list of native plants documented by William Bartram in the 1700s. Markers identify the quadrants and the individual plants. To the left of the entrance is the Contemplative Room. As its name indicates, it’s a perfect spot to sit and think or simply rest. The wooden benches found in this area and behind the cabins were created from wood salvaged from a storm-damaged section of the red cedar standing to the right of the cabins. This tree is recorded to be the second largest red cedar in the country!

Following the completion of the Garden Walk at 3:00 p.m., everyone is invited to stay on (or return to) the Cassina grounds at the Tabby Cabins for the Garden Party festivities. The celebration of the day will include refreshments provided by Club members. Fabulous entertainer Annie Akins will be performing, so make sure to bring a chair to sit and enjoy the music. It’s also an excellent opportunity to pick up a copy of Coastal Cookery, the Club’s cookbook (currently in its fifth edition) if you don’t already have one. A treasured keepsake for many locals, the cookbook contains several favorite island recipes. Proceeds from cookbook sales are used exclusively for the preservation, maintenance, and beautification of the Historic Tabby Slave Cabins and grounds.

The restored Tabby Cabins will be open for tours and the Club will be showing its recently unveiled new educational video, Strong as Sea Island Cotton. Intended to spark interest and engage younger visitors to the historic cabins, the video, which introduces characters from the colonial, plantation, and lumber eras of the island, was a project spearheaded by Cassina Garden Club member and former educator Ava White. White says that when she first joined the Club a few years ago, her first job as a member was to be a docent. She noticed that while children from outside the area would come visit the cabins on field trips, they weren’t seeing children from our local public schools. She believed that providing a more kid-friendly video introducing the history and offering children’s activities would encourage them to want to learn more about the cabins and the area. The club engaged the services of Libba Beaucham, Director of Operations of the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University, to direct and produce the video. Locals adding their talents to the production included musician Michael Hulett and seventh generation Gullah Geechee descendant and Global Goodwill Ambassador Griffin Lotson, who plays an enslaved plantation worker. General James Oglethorpe and Cornelius Sawyer share their stories in the video. The archives of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society provided the photographs and artifacts shown in the film.

Ava says proudly that the entertaining but educational piece “is something like Steven Speilberg meets Ken Burns.” The response the Club has been receiving to viewings of the film have been overwhelmingly positive. The video is shown at the cabins every Wednesday and the Club is discussing the creation of storyboards at the cabins that would provide a QR to scan so visitors on days when the cabins aren’t open could still watch the film. Tending plants and helping them thrive may have been the common interest that sparked the growth of Cassina Garden Club, but what a wonderful job they are doing to keep our island history alive.

Show your support for Cassina Garden Club or just satisfy your desire to wander through some gorgeous private gardens by purchasing tickets to the 18th Annual Tabby & Tillandsia Garden Walk on Saturday, April 27. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 on Tour Day. They can be purchased at Platinum Sponsor ACE Garden Center, GJ Ford Bookshop, Righton Books, or online at cassinagardenclub.org.

Inspiration & Education - 2024 Cassina Garden Club Tabby and Tillandsia Garden Walk originally posted on by Elegant Island Living magazine.

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