2018-11-09 / Home & Garden

Governor’s mansion gardens go native for the birds

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

To acknowledge the importance of native plants to the state’s wildlife, economy, and history, last March legislators designated the third week in October as S.C. Native Plant Week. To commemorate South Carolina Native Plant Week, Audubon South hosted a native plant and bird walk in the green mansion gardens on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion, 800 Richland Street October 18.

Jennifer Tyrrell, bird-friendly communities coordinator for Audubon South, guided participants on a two-hour tour of the formal green garden rooms pointing out the newest native plants installed in April and reporting the groups bird sightings on eBird. One reason natives are important is they host and harbor an abundance of insects, the favored food for terrestrial nestlings.

New seasonal native plants in the gardens include the following:

Dwarf yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria ‘Taylor’s Rubin’, a broadleaf evergreen shrub, reaches 2-3’ tall with a mounded form used in hedges and borders. Glossy red berries of female plants feed birds and other wildlife through winter.

A bird nesting box replica of the Caldwell- Boylston house was built and installed in the gardens by Mike Dawson, retiring manager of Beidler Forest.A bird nesting box replica of the Caldwell- Boylston house was built and installed in the gardens by Mike Dawson, retiring manager of Beidler Forest.
Inkberry, Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’, an evergreen holly makes a low maintenance hedge or border in full sun to partial shade. Jet-black drupes attract birds.

The heart shaped leaf of the eastern redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, hosts the larvae of Henry’s elfin butterfly. Nectar of the showy spring flowers of this understory tree attracts spring pollinators. Birds harvest the seeds in fall.

The mound shaped understory deciduous shrub Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica, is a native alternative to Japanese azaleas. The long tassels of white flowers in spring and red fall foliage make an attractive ornamental. Mass plantings provide nectar for insects and seeds for birds.

Jennifer Tyrrell, Bird-friendly Communities Coordinator for Audubon South, explains why native plants are important to birds.Jennifer Tyrrell, Bird-friendly Communities Coordinator for Audubon South, explains why native plants are important to birds.
Preferring sun-dappled shade the showy flowers of native Piedmont azalea, Rhododendron canescens, attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies each spring.

Lime green southern lady fern, Athyrium filixfemina, is a delicate looking ground cover in woodland landscapes. Anoles and toads hide within the fiddleheads.

Woodland phlox, Phlox divaricata, is a spreading native wildflower forming mats of foliage with stems reaching 12” tall. Fragrant tubular lavender to rose to blue flowers invite hummingbirds and butterflies in spring.

As an alternative groundcover to liriope and mondo grass, Carex Cherokee, Carex cherokeensis, a fine-textured sedge was planted to spread, mound, and produce pendulous seed spikes for birds.

Landscape architect, Erin Stevens of Charleston, created the garden design by researching natives down to the county level. Plants came from Lori Watson’s Mill Creek Greenhouses on Leesburg Road in Columbia.

Two new nesting boxes installed on the grounds are miniature replicas of the Lace House and Caldwell-Boylston House. Mark Dawson, retiring manager of Beidler Forest National Audubon Society Sanctuary, built them.

The Governor’s Mansion gardens are an oasis for birds that nest, roost, and refuel among native oaks, southern magnolia, sycamore, and dogwood.

In two hours, our entourage sighted 35 birds and 19 species.

The gardens are open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Bring binoculars and camera.

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