A visit to Spartanburg Community College by a renown gardener last year has blossomed into a partnership between the college and one of the best known gardens in the world.
Fergus Garrett, head gardener of the 15th century estate, Great Dixter, in East Sussex, England, spoke at the college last year during a gardening symposium. During that event, he encouraged SCC horticulture instructor Kevin Parris to send a student to Great Dixter and told him to come along as well.
Parris and student Tanner Howell will share their experiences with the public Thursday during “Arboretum Adventures,” a yearly fundraiser for the college's arboretum and horticulture department.
“It was almost overload,” Howell said of the trip. “It was phenomenal, the gardening there. I tried to soak up ideas and find all the inspiration I could.”
Great Dixter is the lifelong home of the late gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd, and is regarded as “the epitome of English plantmanship.”
Parris noted the age of the architecture and gardens, how well preserved they are and the respect people have for them in England.
“There are lessons we can learn about holding on to things with intrinsic value like that,” Parris said. “We need to do a better job of that.”
To Parris, it was amazing to think about how the gardens and buildings at Great Dixter have been cared for for centuries, that people put their “heart, soul and blood into a space that enriches people's lives.”
It was also moving to see a plant he bred himself, the variety of magnolia named for his late mother, Kay Parris, in Borde Hill Garden in Sussex. It was the first time he had seen one of his plants overseas.
Howell said he studied the different styles of gardening and the palette of Great Dixter.
“Dixter is a learning garden,” Howell said. “Their main focus is the teaching. Meadows are their thing. It was interesting to see what plants held value. They use dog fennel, which is a weed here.”
Howell ate with student gardeners interning at Dixter, and enjoyed what he said was a family atmosphere of education and hands-on learning.
Garrett told the American visitors not to try to recreate the gardens of Great Dixter, but take ideas inspired by the English gardens back to the college. Parris and Howell were inspired from their trip to England to develop a new walled area with flowers and a picnic area near the A-wing of the Jack Powers Building on campus.
After working jobs in food service and driving carriages in Charleston, Howell said he realized he found his true career after working in a greenhouse. He plans on earning an associate's degree in horticulture at SCC, then obtaining a bachelor's degree.
“I'm happy as long as I'm dirty and planting something,” Howell said. “It's the caretaking aspect of it, working with that land to improve the overall ecosystem around it, planting a tree you know will be there for hundreds of years.”
The 60 or so students in the college's horticulture program learn by maintaining all the specialty gardens on campus. Horticulturists have important roles in harnessing the energy of plants, whether that's through food production, inspiring others through gardens or enticing people to go outside, Parris said. That's why horticulture programs are so important.
“Most people forget that we're intimately connected to the natural world,” he said. “(Horticulture) helps you feel connected to the world.”
Depending on how this year's fundraiser goes, other students will continue to visit England and study gardening there, Parris said.
“This will open doors for other students,” he said.
Thursday's fundraising dinner, which begins at 6 p.m. in the college's Tracy J. Gaines Building, is open to the public. Tickets are $35 per person.
The SCC horticulture club is also holding its fall plant sale from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the central campus greenhouses.
View article as it appears on GoUpstate.com
Learn more about SCC Horticulture Programs