The roots of the S.C. Festival of Flowers are the flowers themselves, and on Saturday they’ll be on full display during the garden tours.
From 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, anyone interested will be able to tour through a number of verdant gardens throughout the city, all free of charge. A list of locations is available online at bit.ly/2N0Emh0, and maps will also be available at The Arts Center, 120 Main St.
The gardens range from prayer gardens at a number of area churches to the city’s garden on West Cambridge Avenue and even the home garden of Ann Barklow. Barklow, the city’s horticulturalist and a master gardener, has spent countless hours through the years transforming her yard into a landscape of native and pollinator-friendly plants.
But she rejects calling any of those hours “work.”
“Work is laundry. Work in a garden setting is repetitive, mindless tasks like pruning shrubs and putting mulch and yanking weeds. These gardens — it’s an altruistic approach to gardening,” she said. “I just enjoy being out there. I say ‘Hey buddy’ all day long, and there’s no one there but me and nature. I’m looking and saying ‘Hey buddy’ to a frog or a bee or a flower. When I’m out there, it’s like I’m with my family.”
She said the garden tours provide a wealth of knowledge for experienced gardeners and beginners alike, showing a focus on native plants.
One garden on display Saturday serves as a portal to an earlier time. The Immanuel Lutheran Church medieval garden, planted in 1996 and spearheaded by retired horticulturalist Klaus Neubner, was designed to mimic gardens of the 1500s.
“I cared for the grounds here and I came to the last bit and wanted to do something special that was related to the church,” Neubner said, sitting beside the garden’s gate. “I thought about Martin Luther — for the Lutheran Church — and there I had my theme.”
Raised platforms for plants were typically made in squares then, with none of the sprawling curved fixtures of French or English gardens. Most of the plants have medicinal uses because monks at the time were also apothecaries. Some flowers in the garden can be brewed into teas that calm the mind or help people fall asleep, and many of the herbs served for cooking purposes and as pest repellent, Neubner said.
To design the garden, he studied monastic writings and medieval paintings, picking plants that would grow and thrive here as opposed to the European climates they originate from.
The garden also features a fountain, as most in the 1500s did, a lawn where monks would congregate and a bench for resting. The bench is inlaid with copies of tiles based off illustrations found in a 13th century book of hours, which showed people what activities they should be doing each month, whether it was planting, harvesting, cooking specific meals or crafting.
The work of designing this garden wasn’t work for Neubner either, and to this day he says his passion makes every minute of it fun.
“That’s why I’ve been chairman of the maintenance committee at the parks department,” he said. “I still love to do it.”
Tour-goers can also get a more recent history lesson this weekend, with a visit to the Benjamin E. Mays Historic Site. Tours are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, and site Director Christopher Thomas said he’s themed these tours to coincide with the Festival of Flowers.
“At one time farming dominated life, and flowers were a peaceful element of that life,” he said.
The site tells the story of nearly every element of Mays’ life, including his early childhood spent in the farming community of Epworth. His father was an accomplished farmer, Thomas said, and Mays learned valuable lessons and essential values working alongside him.
As a principle founder of the civil rights movement, Mays’ life story is strongly tied to the community he grew up in, and Thomas said he’s eager to share with tour-goers the story of the early forging of Mays’ character.