On a sunny Friday afternoon in the beginning of April, three home gardeners in the Lieben Park neighborhood in Mount Pleasant set up a table with a variety of plants and invited neighbors to take what they wanted.
Each of the gardeners have a different specialization: Jhuang Wan plants organic fruits and vegetables, Monty Schwartz grows an assortment of ornamentals and garden plants and Laura Lewis focuses on Lowcountry native plants.
One goal of the event was to share their love of gardening throughout the neighborhood and give novice gardeners the opportunity to start growing their own gardens.
Schwartz, who started the neighborhood-wide event several years ago, hopes the effort extends beyond the small neighborhood and becomes a statewide initiative. He said skilled gardeners always have extra plants they can give away.
“What I’m hoping is that there will be a movement where one day a year the master gardeners will put a little table in front of their house and give their extra plants away,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz is a “master gardener” who has completed both the Florida and South Carolina programs designed to train volunteers with the purpose of sharing their horticulture knowledge with others. It is a 40-hour course on the fundamentals of gardening. The programs vary by state, currently, the program through the Clemson University Cooperative Extension is only offered online due to the pandemic, but typically, there are local, in-person programs.
Schwartz has cultivated his home garden in Mount Pleasant for nine years, ever since moving into the neighborhood. He’s always adding new plants including berry bushes he planted this year. One of his favorite plants is the Japanese maple.
Schwartz said gardening is a “wonderful pastime” and encourages children and adults to partake in the hobby.
Wan’s backyard is lined with fruit trees, tall tomato plants, berry bushes and various vegetable plants. During the plant giveaway event, he handed out tomato plants so that his neighbors could try growing something they would enjoy on their dinner table.
Wan started his garden with vegetables and expanded to fruit in 2015. Fruit is his favorite fresh food; his garden includes strawberries, mulberries, muscadine grapes, peaches and loquats. He especially enjoys the fruit from his Fuyu persimmon trees and enjoys sharing them with his neighbors.
“The yield is not enough to go to the farmers market, so most of them I share with my friends,” Wan said, adding that his wife’s wishes the garden had flowers, but he said he finds them too difficult to grow, and he likes to focus on growing what he can eat.
Lewis has a different approach to her garden than Wan or Schwartz. She primarily grows native plants, which are fairly low-maintenance since they have evolved to thrive in the Lowcountry climate. Lewis intentionally planned her garden to make the best use of sunlight, shade and rainwater. Her goal is to recreate the way the plants live in the ecosystem of the Lowcountry.
“We’re trying to dedicate as much square footage of our property to giving back to wildlife instead of just taking it for ourselves,” Lewis said.
Lewis uses the leaves from fallen trees as mulch to preserve moth and butterfly cocoons that are nestled underneath. One of her favorite plants is Turk’s cap hibiscus because it seems to thrive no matter where it is planted in a yard. She said it attracts hummingbirds and supports pollinators.
“It’s a different approach to gardening, but I find it a lot more rewarding just because it is having a beneficial effect on the animals and wildlife here versus things that are just pretty to look at,” Lewis said.
Schwartz enjoys teaching neighbors about gardening, especially children who are excited about growing fruit and brightly colored plants.
Jen Bodily, a neighbor who has taken up gardening with her kids, initially tried planting fruit like Schwartz’s apple trees. However, it didn’t go as planned.
“We tried to grow stuff and it didn’t go very well, so I had to come talk to Monty and figure out what can we grow,” Bodily said.
Schwartz advised Bodily to start with peppers, so she began growing jalapenos. The vegetable wasn’t exactly what the kids had in mind, but Bodily said they will eat spicy peppers if they are mixed in dishes.
“He loves trying to get the kids involved,” Bodily said. “When the kids walk by, he wants to teach them stuff which is really cute and gets them really excited.”