Remembering the Days — The not-so-secret gardens

Remembering the Days — episode 52

There's a reason why the University of South Carolina's campus is considered one of the most beautiful in the country and it's not just the lovely expanse of the Horseshoe. Scattered across the campus are pocket gardens of various shapes and sizes that bring a touch of color and splendor to the green oasis that is Carolina. 


“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world … is a garden.” 

When Frances Hodgson Burnett penned those words more than a century ago in her classic children’s book The Secret Garden, there probably were very few, perhaps not any flower gardens on the University of South Carolina campus. But we’ve made up for it in the past 50 years or so.

I’m Chris Horn, your host for Remembering the Days, and today we’re going to visit several not-so-secret gardens on the University of South Carolina campus. There’s a memorial rose garden, a garden that pays tribute to the university’s 1963 desegregation, another garden that salutes the patriots of the American Revolution and several more. In just a few minutes, you’re going to learn a little of the history of each garden and what’s planted there.

Emily Jones is the university landscape architect, and she says the USC campus had anything but a flower garden feel to it in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Emily Jones: “You know, you have this idea of the quad, but that was — it was still a very utilitarian type of landscape. And some of the back sides of the Horseshoe buildings were very, you know, production oriented. There were outbuildings, there were kitchens, livestock. So it was not sort of the landscaped pleasure ground that campuses often take on today.”

Well, thank goodness, the university did start taking a keener eye to its campus landscaping in the latter half of the 20th century. One of the first places that happened was behind the South Caroliniana Library, the building with the huge white columns on the lower end of the Horseshoe.

In 1960, that’s where the Columbia Garden Club Foundation planted the Memorial Rose Garden in honor of its deceased members. In the late 1970s, the old library was being renovated, so the rose garden was moved to Lieber College, the building directly across the Horseshoe from South Caroliniana. You’ll find a variety of roses on the east side of Lieber, and on the west side, you’ll find a fountain and neatly manicured hedges in a garden space that was dedicated to Norma Cannon Palms, the first lady of the university from 1991 to 2002. She was a big fan and supporter of the Memorial Rose Garden.

The South Caroliniana Library has just undergone a complete renovation and the large garden on the back side of the building is about to get a refresh in the coming year, including refurbishment of a picturesque three-tiered fountain that was dedicated nearly 40 years ago to the patriots of the Revolutionary War. Here’s what else you’ll find in that garden when it’s all finished.

Emily Jones: “Crape myrtles magnolias, azaleas, there's a Japanese maple — there's a lot of nandina too and those are all kind of your traditional non-native plants. But we're going to incorporate Virginia Choke Cherry, which has kind of a garnet colored fall foliage. Carolina Allspice. The iteas are a great landscape plant that are natives. We're learning a lot from the Robert Mills House of Historic Columbia because they're doing kind of a similar thing, and they've done a lot of research on native plants in a kind of heirloom garden context.”

“Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it.”

That line from The Secret Garden could easily apply to the next garden on our tour, tucked on the north end of the Osborne Administration building. As you walk along the Desegregation Garden’s curved pathways, a pattern emerges in the brick pavers that wordlessly conveys the meaning of the garden.

Emily Jones: “It was created in 2013 to honor the 50th anniversary of the 1963 desegregation of the university by three courageous Black students. This is an elegant little garden. It features a large granite stone with an inscription, a poem dedicated to those students. There's a little puzzle to be found in the brick paving pattern. And finally, the garden features some plantings that in particular, that space gets backlit by the sun, and when you see a Japanese maple in full color backlit, it's just one of those fleeting moments that I think enrich the campus experience.”

Just across from the Osborne Administration Building is Hamilton College, home to the College of Social Work. A very large oak tree had to be removed there recently and now a new garden is springing up on the site.

Emily Jones: “It features fall blooming native perennials that are kind of on your top ten list of pollinator beneficial plants to a variety of pollinators. It was planted in March, early spring this year. So we'll see  how it turns out this fall.”

On a brick pathway that passes by Hamilton and Barnwell colleges on Gibbes Green, there used to be not a garden, exactly, but a grove of camelia bushes that had been rescued from the yard of Havilah Babcock. He was a legendary English professor from earlier in the 20th century whom we’ve previously talked about on this podcast. The Babcock camelias were moved to the south side of Gibbes Green a few years ago.

Emily Jones: “There's two kinds of camellias on campus. Most of the Babcock camellias were the japonica variety, which has got a little more formal habit and a more formal bloom. And those those are your winter and spring bloomers. And then the other variety is the Sasanqua Camellias that have a little more open, informal habit, and they bloom a little bit earlier. So you'll start to see those in October — October, November, December.”

One of the older gardens on campus is behind the Barringer House, which is between Capstone and the Close-Hipp Buildings. The Barringer House was built in 1956 as a private residence that the university acquired when the east campus was being developed.

Emily Jones: "There's a children's book called The Little Little House. It's about a little house in the country and the city encroaches and, you know, after decades, the little house is surrounded by mid-rise buildings. So that's very much the feeling for the Barringer house. It came into the university's possession in 1972. The original garden had a formal layout with mixed borders of flowering shrubs and perennials, but the garden had really fallen into disrepair, and it was rescued by a generous donor in 2017. And this was a resident of the University Hill neighborhood who remembered playing in this garden as a child. And thanks to her donation, we were able to resurrect the planting beds, upgrade the turf, do a couple of other improvements. I think it's one of the really prime gardens on campus. And whenever I go over there, I invariably will see students or neighbors or families with children just enjoying it."

The last spot on our list is the A.C. Moore Garden, located behind Patterson and South Tower residence halls on the corner of Bull and Blossom streets. It’s a colorful spot during the spring, but mainly it’s just a quiet place with a lot of trees.

Emily Jones: “It was dedicated in 1941 and named for a professor of biology, Andrew Charles Moore. The main feature of that garden is a small pond. It's low-lying property and is subject to the same flooding that Blossom Street experiences, but it's surrounded by yellow flag native iris. And so for a couple of weeks in the spring, it's a very colorful space with the native Redbud blooming early and then the yellow flag irises blooming.” 

Emily mentioned to me that there are a number of trees planted in A.C. Moore Garden that memorialize loved ones who had a USC connection. It’s a lovely way to remember someone with a living thing that becomes part of the university’s urban forest. You can arrange to have a tree planted in the A.C. Moore Garden, too — just contact the university landscaping office.

Finally, there are two more places on campus that are undergoing a metamorphosis. One of them is the basketball court that used to be beside Woodrow residence hall, near Preston. Those asphalt courts are now gone, and that space will soon be planted in shade trees. The other space is Foundation Square, where Lincoln and Greene streets intersect near the Colonial Life Arena. One hundred twenty oak trees were planted there a few years ago, and they’re growing taller and wider every year. Give it a bit more time and that sun-drenched section of campus is going to be enjoying some serious shade.

We’ve stopped by several garden spots on campus today, but there are a few more besides. If you have opportunity to stroll through sometime, you’ll no doubt discover more nooks and crannies tucked away here and there with interesting foliage and flowers. In a sense, the whole campus is a garden.

Next time on Remembering the Days, we’re going to revisit the Visitor Center — how it came to be and how it came to play such a big role in welcoming people to campus. We’ll also hear a couple of stories from the campus tour guide blooper reel. You don't want to miss that one.

That’s next time. Until then, I’m Chris Horn. Thanks for listening and forever to thee.

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