2018-04-13 / Home & Garden

Growing History

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

Gardens, their design, and plants, open windows to the past. In the 19th century, South Carolina was a horticulture hub, a claim buttressed and exemplified in three presentations at the 2018 Historic Columbia Garden Symposium March 24.

Dr. James Kibler, southern literature historian and author of Taking Root, presented a portrait of one of the largest and most prolific plant nurseries in the antebellum south from 1840-1870s, Pomaria Nursery in Newberry County.

Brothers Adam and William Summer transformed their family plantation into an experimental station to propagate, trial, and sell plants for plantation owners who had few resources for seeds and plants adapted to southern soils and climate.

At an early age William had learned grafting and seed selection from his elders and oversaw fruit tree selection and production. Pomaria’s catalog listed 500 apples, 300 bred for the south; 400 varieties of pear; and 600 varieties of peach. Adam focused on native and exotic ornamental trees and shrubs and assembled one of the largest collections of old roses on the continent.


Dan Clayton, owner of Paradise Plants Plus discusses antique camellias with Patty Russell. Dan Clayton, owner of Paradise Plants Plus discusses antique camellias with Patty Russell. Ledgers indicate Magnolia grandiflora trees from Pomaria were sold to every county seat in the state. The nearby railroad depot allowed easy transport of plants across the south and helped the business boom. The Pomaria Society is reestablishing agrarian and horticultural roots in the contemporary south.

Columbia estates like Millwood, Millcreek, Kensington, and Hampton-Preston purchased plants from Pomaria.

Evan Clements, director of grounds at Historic Columbia, presented the horticulture history of the Hampton-Preston Garden: Past, Present and Future.

Referring to landscape architect James Cothan’s book Gardens and Historic Plants of the Antebellum South and Pomaria Nursery ledgers, a multiphase master plan was drafted to restore the gardens to their “golden age” (1840-1860s).


Simply Citrus Nursery owners Ben and Mary Salley grow and sell cold hardy citrus trees and Mary's marmalade. Simply Citrus Nursery owners Ben and Mary Salley grow and sell cold hardy citrus trees and Mary's marmalade. In 2012 work commenced to install an urban arboretum, restore historic pathways and plant beds, exhibit period-appropriate plant materials (antique camellias and azaleas) and garden structures like arbors and fountains, and repair the perimeter wall.

Keith Mearns, horticulturist for Historic Columbia and Clements narrated a guided tour of the project, which will open to the public on May 12 for the Hampton-Preston Bicentennial.

Tom Johnson, director of Magnolia Gardens in Charleston, and colleague, Caroline Howell, director of Historical Contexts, highlighted the history of the romantic gardens, which hold the oldest and largest camellia collection (25,000) in the country. The Drayton family has owned the property since 1676 and still sits on the board.


Evan Clements points out the new monkey puzzle tree. Evan Clements points out the new monkey puzzle tree. Magnolia was designed to appeal to the heart and feelings rather than to reason. Drayton, married to Philadelphian Julia Ewing, grew romantic gardens to woo his wife south. Although the tactic didn’t move Julia, the romance of the 1840s garden with a plant registry of Pomaria Nursery stock, enthralls 700,000 visitors a year.

Johnson continually searches for pre-1900 variety azaleas and camellias. Although Magnolia propagates and has been selling camellias since the early 1900s, they can’t keep up with demand.

As we add, delete, and rearrange plants in our home garden, we are growing history on the land.

Symposium Vendors
LushLife Nurseries
Millcreek Greenhouses
Paradise Plants Plus
Rodger’s Heirlooms
Roses Unlimited
Simply Citrus



Keith Mearns (l), horticulturist, and Evan Clements, director of grounds, lead a tour of the Hampton-Preston Garden renovation. Keith Mearns (l), horticulturist, and Evan Clements, director of grounds, lead a tour of the Hampton-Preston Garden renovation.

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