Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thai Exhibition Garden

2005 was the inaugural year of the Charleston Garden Festival at Middleton Place Plantation. As a fledgling entrepreneur and young Charleston Horticultural Society Board Member, I was eager to participate.

I enlisted Chip Chesnutt of Other Side of the River to be my co-conspirator and we blindly entered the world of display gardening.

In the spring of 2005, we selected our site- a vast 60x80 foot green space with a view of the Ashley River. If you've ever done a display garden, you know this is an enormous space to fill. We simply didn't know any better.
Over the summer, we drew and submitted plans to the CGF powers-that-be, ambitiously deciding to build a tea house and create meandering paths into several well-designed rooms. Mixing hardy Lowcountry plants like Oleander and Viburnum with exotic orchids, gingers, bananas and palms, we designed a tropical garden that would thrive in the Southern landscape.

We bought a book on how to build bamboo fences. Chip and his crew spent the summer in a forest with machetes, harvesting invasive bamboo. The canes were held together with intricately woven black rope, as seen below:SET-UP
Set-up began on a Monday and we had four days to complete our garden. Plants were delivered on loan from local wholesale nurseries. A disturbingly heavy Buddha statue was borrowed from Hyam's Garden Center. Twenty-foot tall bamboo was cut from the forest and hauled to the site. We were overwhelmed to say the least!

I coordinated the layout of the site, with a crew of Americorps volunteers and Middleton Place Plantation employees.
Because the plants stayed in their pots, we had to water them every day to keep them from drying out:
Pine straw was artfully arranged around the bases of the plants to give the appearance that they were actually planted in the landscape:
Chip and his crew built a surprisingly sturdy tea house with a bamboo thatch roof (there was no plan and he had never constructed anything before....though he told me over and over that it was "to code"). He surrounded the boards with bamboo:
Then, Chip and his crew took the cut timber bamboo and created a "forest" around the perimeter. They did this by driving a piece of rebar 2-feet into the ground, removing the rebar and inserting a piece of bamboo. They did this over and over until the desired affect was achieved. It was really ingenious....I wish I had picture of the process. You can see the bamboo in this image:COMPLETED
Somehow, it all came together. I lost 8 pounds that week and my feet were so swollen that I had to soak them in Epsom Salts before the garden party. But it was worth it.

On Monday, we dismantled the garden and returned the plants, stone and borrowed items. The pine straw was used on a landscape installation later that week and the fence became a screen in Chip's backyard.

I had about 10 meltdowns that week, but looking back, I'm glad we chose to tackle the entire 60x80' space. It was quite an experience.


  1. What a beautiful garden you created in such a short amount of time. You are right, all the hard work was worth it. Congratulations on a huge job done well. It's a shame it wasn't permanent!

  2. I always wondered how they made those huge displays at garden shows come together. I suppose it was quite a bit like what you did in a week. Just amazing, you must be so proud!

    Christine in Alaska

  3. I wish there were more outdoor garden shows. Most of them seem to be in vast convention centers, which I guess ensures rain free days, but it makes things even more artificial than they already are.

  4. Thanks, y'all!

    Les- I agree. It was great to have an outdoor space to work in. I loved being able to incorporate the surrounding views into our designs.

  5. It was a great exhibit! You and your team did some really creative things!!

  6. Thanks, Jim! I loved that garden...definitely my favorite year being involved with the CGF.

  7. And to think that anyone can do this on a smaller scale! Thanks for the photos!



Blog Widget by LinkWithin