Monthly Archives: June 2020

Southern Comfort

Beyond the Peach State

Photos courtesy of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce and Rhonda Hall

Breathing the seacoast air of charming Beaufort, South Carolina

When it comes to the mechanically cooled contemporary South, this may be close to blasphemy. But here goes: I do not like central air. Indoor breezes are indoor breezes, if you ask me. You might be in a mall, at the movies or driving around in your car.

But if you want to catch the seasonal thickness of a summer evening, you might find yourself rolling through South Carolina with the windows down. Your destination is the Lowcountry, where saltiness and farminess mix in the air, to a town that was laid out to breathe this elixir in, not freeze-dry it. You’re headed for Beaufort, the kind of place where you can prop open the door to your motel and breathe in a summer night.

Once known as the “Newport of the South” because of the mansions built here by wealthy planters, Beaufort, just 130 miles southeast of Augusta, is still full of carefully preserved pre-Civil War houses outfitted with two-story, colonnaded porches and Southeast frontages that make the best of the available winds.

And although it’s about halfway between Charleston and Savannah, when you visit you feel like you are in a separate, seaside dominion with its own, sometimes lavish, local atmosphere.

Everywhere you turn there are live oaks, dangling shreds of Spanish moss and inlets edged with soft-looking marsh grass that changes from a light green to gold as summer moves toward fall.

Small boats promenade up and down the intracoastal waterway, and you can sometimes see groups of bottle-nosed dolphins close in to shore as they use the tidal eddies to try and outwit schools of fish. It often feels like there are as many herons as human inhabitants.

Beaufort is a friendly place where people like to use each other’s name as often as they can. (“Roger, is it March when soft shell crabs get on local menus?” “Well, Peter, I think that’s right.”)

It is also semi-official headquarters for South Carolina’s Sea Islands, which include well-known destinations like Hilton Head, Parris Island — with its Marine Corps basic training center — and hundreds of barely-charted Gilligan-sized places. There’s Lady’s Island, Cat Island, Cane Island, Coosaw Island, Distant Island and Spring Island, to just name a few.

Eighteen miles out, at the end of Highway 21, you’ll come to Fripp Island, a full-scale resort. A couple of Sea Island bridges east of Beaufort on U.S. 21 is Hunting Island State Park with its white-sand beach, pine and palmetto forest and storybook-quality, 19th century lighthouse. Normally, you can climb to the top of the lighthouse to get a view, but, in these abnormal times, it is closed.

Because of beach erosion, Hunting Island offers the surprising spectacle of trees seeming to grow right up to the edge of the surf. There’s also a secluded family park, nature trails, nature center, fishing pier, visitor center, campground and cabins. A portion of the pier is open now, but no fishing or crabbing currently is allowed.

A good way to see the town from out on the water is to take one of the brief Beaufort River cruises that sail from Beaufort’s Waterfront Park on a fairly regular schedule. You’ll see plenty of salt marshes and wading birds and, if you’re lucky, Atlantic Bottle-nosed dolphins sometimes swim around not too far from the boat.

The Gullah Connection
Here and there, you can discover Gullah communities that are made up, in part, of the descendants of slaves that were brought here from Africa’s west coast, and that are infused with a distinctive African-American culture and dialect.

Gullah settlements on St. Helena Island like Wallace, Capers or Coffin Point tend not to show up on signs, so you may not know you’re nearby unless you ask or, perhaps, unless you hear Sea Island words and phrases mixed into speech. For instance, a Gullah speaker might ask, “Hah onnah da do?” instead of “How are you doing?” or “How are you?”

Because Beaufort was the first southern city captured by Union forces and the area was the only major chunk of the South occupied throughout the Civil War, slaves here were among the first in America freed after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Philadelphia missionaries set up the nation’s first school for freed slaves — the Penn Normal School on St. Helena. During the early 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his staff were said to have drawn up plans for the March On Washington at the Penn Center.

Full of Character
I liked Beaufort the minute I saw that it was surrounded with fried chicken restaurants and small-scale roadside diners. Although well-heeled retirees have discovered the area and created a housing and retail boom, there’s still plenty of laid-back charm to go around.

The region’s staple crops used to be indigo and cotton, but now they’re melons, strawberries, green peppers and dark-red, extraordinary tomatoes. Some of these are picked early and trucked out of state, but a few are allowed to ripen and you can look them over and squeeze them (just to see if they’re real).

Historic Downtown
Beaufort’s a good place to walk around — the entire downtown is designated a national historical district. Because there are so many historic houses and inns packed side by side, you don’t need to point to a spot on a map and try to find it. Cotton and indigo money puffed Beaufort’s buildings with plantation-style pride, and on streets like Craven Street, you are surrounded with rooflines and balconies that are exotic and a little exaggerated.

There’s a park along the waterfront that ends in a promenade paved with “tabby” — an ancient Sea Island mixture of oyster shells, lime, sand and water. Thomas Fuller House at 1211 Bay Street (otherwise known as “Tabby Manse”) was built from the same stuff back in the late 18th century, and with its double portico, stands as a prototype for many breeze-catching Beaufort homes. Its almost spindly columns give it a rare airiness, and the terra cotta-like front staircase seems to spread out in welcome.

Nearby Milton Maxey House (“Secession House”) at 1113 Craven Street was constructed a bit later, in 1813. Its Greek Revival upper floors were plunked on top of a Spanish-style foundation with arches the color of sea coral and intricate ironwork in-between.

South Carolina’s ordinance of secession from the Union was first drafted here and graffiti scrawls by Union soldiers are still discernible on its basement walls. Because Union occupied Beaufort so early in the Civil War, most of the town’s big houses became luxury quarters for Union officers or troop bivouacs, and ended up surviving the war pretty much intact.

Not far, in Beaufort’s eastern portion, is the Old Point section, which includes several blocks of privately-owned pre- and post-Civil War mansions, all lovingly restored. The area is best viewed with a professional guide, either walking, by horse-drawn carriage or by bus. One historic mansion, Tidalholm, is also known as The Big Chill house, because most of that film was shot there, as was Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini. Conroy’s Prince of Tides was also filmed in Beaufort, and as were nearly 20 other movies including many parts of Forrest Gump.

Bay Street is Beaufort’s Main Street, with many intriguing small shops where you can find a pot just about right for preparing Frogmore Stew (also called Lowcountry Boil) — a cauldron full of shrimp, sausage, ears of corn and Old Bay seasoning that is dumped out on a paper-covered picnic table and eaten with cocktail sauce and saltines on the side.

What you want? I want to try some of that stew, please. I want to walk in the morning under a ragged canopy of oaks and listen to cicada tuning up for the heat of the day. I want to breathe in Sea Island air and bite into tomatoes that are as red inside as they are on the skin. I want to stay in Beaufort.

By Peter Mandel


Serene18 Paddle Trail


Paddling enthusiasts who are anxious to travel can get a passport to explore 18 square miles on four of Georgia’s most serene water trails at Clarks Hill Lake, the Savannah River and the Augusta Canal.

Once they complete a route on the Serene18 Paddle Trail, paddlers can have their passports stamped at five area locations.

Paddlers also can pick up a free T-shirt at the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau office after they have traveled all four routes.

For more information, log onto

Drive-In Wedding


Photography by Ricki Thompson

After the coronavirus pandemic upended the wedding plans of a local bride, she and her fiancé had to shift gears to plan a completely different ceremony.

For Augusta native Allison Goodwin and her new husband, Jared Bishop, their wedding day was a walk in the park. Not that this was the scenario they originally had in mind, however.

Allison and Jared had planned to have an outdoor wedding March 28 at the Taylor Grady House in Athens, Georgia with 175 well-wishers in attendance. They still got their outdoor ceremony that same day. Instead, though, they exchanged vows in front of seven family members and their officiant at Bluff Creek Park in Oklahoma City, where they were living at the time. The remaining 30 to 35 guests that were able to attend watched the ceremony from their cars

The change of venue on short notice came courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying restrictions.

“I went through so many emotions,” says Allison. “At first, I was really sad and heartbroken from all of the planning I had put into the wedding. I had dreamed of this day since I was a little girl. I felt like it had been taken away from me because I couldn’t celebrate with my family and friends.”

She not only went through a roller coaster of emotions.

“At that time no one, including government officials, knew what to do,” Allison says. “Multiple times a day for multiple days, everything changed from hour to hour. We were getting really frustrated, but we knew that March 28 we were going to get married no matter what.”

Let the Scramble Begin
Allison, who moved to Oklahoma City three years ago to work for Young Life, and Jared, who grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma, met each other through church and mutual friends. Once they got engaged, they already were on a tight timeline to plan a wedding because Jared was scheduled to start his residency in orthopedic surgery in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 1.

They had planned to drive from Oklahoma to Georgia on the Monday before the ceremony. About a week before their wedding day, however, they heard that Athens was shutting down. They had trouble getting in touch with anyone at their venue, and other friends who were getting married said their venues were cancelling on them.

“When we realized we had to change our plans, we went through a long list of options,” says Allison.

They ultimately decided to get married in Oklahoma City at the park. However, because the Oklahoma governor had ordered that all nonessential businesses in counties affected by covid-19 had to close by midnight on Wednesday, March 25, Allison and Jared had to fast-track some wedding day customs.

They had hired an Oklahoma City photographer for their wedding, and she took traditional wedding photos such as the bridal portraits, the first look and the reading of their letters to each other that Wednesday. They scrambled to find a local videographer to document those events that day as well.

“Most of our vendors were understanding, and almost everyone gave us a full refund,” Allison says.

They formulated a text to send to everyone to announce the change in plans. “It was the most efficient way,” she says.

‘So Much Fun’
Only 10 people, including Allison, Jared and the officiant, were allowed at the ceremony. They were joined – properly social distanced, of course – by Allison’s parents, Ginger and Bret Goodwin, and Jared’s parents, brother, sister and his sister’s boyfriend.

Originally, the wedding party included five bridesmaids, seven groomsmen, three ushers, three flower girls and two ring bearers. “None of the people in the bridal party except for Jared’s brother and sister could come,” Allison says.

Two of her bridesmaids, including her sister, were pregnant, and two of them have young children, so they weren’t able to make the trip to Oklahoma.

Jared had asked his brother and his best friend to serve as his best men, but only his brother could stand with him because of the limited number of people who could attend. However, his best friend, along with some of the other groomsmen, were there in their cars.

Jared’s sister became Allison’s maid of honor “and everything else.”

By the week of the ceremony, they also had ordered and paid for flowers for the entire wedding party from a local florist – another last-minute find. However, she ended up using the flowers to make bouquets for Allison for the wedding and for her bridal portrait.

“We got married in part of the park that was closer to the street, so our friends and extended family parked in their cars,” says Allison. “When we were pronounced husband and wife, everyone honked their horns.”

They livestreamed the wedding on Facebook for the rest of their guests.

After the ceremony, Allison and Jared cut their cake and had champagne. Then they walked down the row of cars to greet their guests and pass out cake to them.

“That was so much fun,” Allison says. “It was way more fun than we thought it would be, given the circumstances. With the extra things stripped away from the ceremony, it made it more about the marriage than the wedding.”

Still to Come
The couple will not have another ceremony, but they are planning to have parties in Georgia and in Oklahoma at some point.

“We hope to have original pieces of our reception for the parties,” says Allison. “We’re looking forward to it.”

They had scheduled a party at the Taylor Grady House for June 13, but they had to cancel it as well because of more coronavirus restrictions.

“Since we were moving to Arkansas from out of state, the hospital needed for us to quarantine for two weeks,” Allison says.

Their honeymoon to St. Lucia also was lost to the pandemic because of international travel bans. However, they hope to turn the trip into a one-year anniversary celebration instead.

“It’s been a wild past few months,” Allison says. “We’ll remember all of the stories we’ll get to tell because of coronavirus and all of the support we’ve gotten from family and friends.”

By Betsy Gilliland


Best-Laid Plans


Photography by Ashlyn Cathey

When she was growing up, a Columbia County bride used to joke about having a backyard wedding. Little did she know. . . .

As a wedding photographer, Georgia Miller Latremouille is used to rolling with the punches. After all, things seldom go exactly as planned. For her recent marriage to Andrew Martinez, however, the punches she had to roll with for her wedding day were more like a series of hard-hitting body blows.

Georgia and Andrew got married March 28 in the early throes of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, and they quickly had to improvise their plans on the fly because of the ever-changing CDC guidelines.

“At the beginning, it was so scary,” says Georgia.

Though it was stressful at the time, she now says she wouldn’t change a thing about their wedding.

“It was so special, pandemic and all,” she says.

Silver Linings
Georgia and Andrew, who met in 2017 during a mission trip to the Philippines, originally planned to get married at Enterprise Mill in front of 300 guests. Instead, they tied the knot in the backyard at the home of Georgia’s parents, Donna and Yves Latremouille, in Martinez with about 20 family members and friends in attendance.

About 10 days before the ceremony, Georgia and her mother first realized that the wedding they had been planning wasn’t going to happen.

“I came home one night, and my mom looked at me. She looked really upset,” says Georgia. “She told me about the CDC guidelines that limited the number of people we could have at the wedding. It was so sad. We both just cried together.”

After an 18-month engagement, however, Georgia and Andrew agreed that delaying the wedding was not an option.

“We wanted to get married and start our life together,” says Georgia. “We had a week to figure everything out. We spent two days calling and texting everyone.”

And then they had to reconfigure everything. Originally, the wedding party was going to include seven attendants for each of them, but they ended up with only a maid of honor and a best man. Two of Georgia’s friends who were supposed to be in the wedding were able to attend, however.

“My dog got to be in the wedding. That was a silver lining,” says Georgia. “He wouldn’t have been there otherwise.”

Chairs for family members were grouped together at the ceremony, but otherwise, the seats were placed 6 feet apart. One person served the food at the scaled-down, backyard reception.

Instead of a sit-down dinner, they served a variety of sweets that included a small wedding cake and a cookie cake that her uncle made for them at the last minute.

“Almost everything we did was not in the original plan,” says Georgia.

They already had paid for the flowers, and, although they were able to cancel one order, they had to figure out what to do with the rest of the blooms. With a little creative thinking, they decided to create a beautiful floral arch of roses, peonies and other flowers for the ceremony.

“I’m obsessed with flowers. I knew that was one thing I wanted to spend a lot of my budget on,” says Georgia. “The flowers would have been spread all over the venue. Instead we put them all into one arch.”

In addition, she says, “The day before, my mom and I went through the neighborhood and foraged for lilac. We had planned to do that anyway.”

Her friend, Caroline Cain, played the violin for the ceremony, just as originally planned.

“The whole thing was memorable. It made me realize how important the person you’re marrying is,” says Georgia. “As a wedding photographer, I always worry about the details. But I realized we weren’t getting married to have this big thing. There were so many great moments.”

The people who had watched her grow up were there, and some of them took on roles they otherwise would not have done. Her aunt fluffed up her dress before she walked down the aisle. Her uncle made them a cookie cake. Her brother became an impromptu bartender.

“And my dog was sitting on my dress as we got ready,” Georgia says. “I got married at the house where I grew up. I had always joked about getting married in our backyard, and I would highly recommend a backyard wedding. There isn’t anything like it.”

Twists of Fate
Georgia and Andrew did a Zoom call with a handful of people during the reception, but they didn’t livestream the wedding because they thought they might have another ceremony at a later date. However, Georgia says, “Afterward, it was so perfect, I didn’t want to do anything else.”

They originally rescheduled their vendors to have a party in July, Georgia says, but it is still too soon to have a large gathering.

“I love all my vendors. They were all great. Everyone has been nice, helpful and accommodating,” she says. “We might have a smaller celebration with friends and family later.”

However, her weekend availability is at a premium because of her wedding photography business. Of the dozen or so weddings she had booked to shoot this spring, only about five of them took place – on a much smaller scale. The rest have been postponed.

Georgia and Andrew, whose family lives near Savannah, also rescheduled their honeymoon to Grenada for November. Instead, they went to Beaufort, South Carolina after their wedding.

“My family has an old cottage there that was built in the 1940s, and it has not changed since then,” says Georgia. “It’s no resort. The shower is outside, but it’s my favorite place in the world. It’s like camping with walls.”

Even before their wedding, Georgia and Andrew knew all about the twists of fate that life can bring. Georgia is the youngest of four children, and her older siblings are triplets. Andrew is a triplet, too. So it seems almost natural that destiny had a hand in their wedding plans.

“I don’t think I would have changed anything,” says Georgia. “People sent me the nicest messages. After we got married, I felt so loved and celebrated.”

By Betsy Gilliland

Right Time, Right Place

In The Home

Comfort and creativity, along with family and fun, highlight the Jones Creek home that was worth the wait for one couples.

When Evans resident Jenny Baker asked her husband, Tahriq, to look at a house in Jones Creek a little more than a year ago, he was willing to oblige. However, he was a bit confused as well. They had agreed that they wanted to downsize from the home they built in Grovetown when they moved from Maryland to Columbia County in 2013, but they also had planned to build another house on a lot off of Hardy McManus Road.

“I saw the house two years ago, but somebody else bought it,” says Jenny. “A year later, they put it back on the market.”

Even though the house had been out of sight, it never was out of mind for her. (She describes herself as a detail-oriented person, but she also has a tendency to stick with anything she likes. After all, she met her future husband when she was in eighth grade.)

“What made me fall in love with the house was the kitchen. I loved the window above the sink, the huge island and the gas stove,” she says. “And I fell in love with the sunroom.”

Although he had different reasons, Tahriq, who is retired from the U.S. Navy and now works at Fort Gordon, had a similar reaction to the house. “I loved everything about it. The design and the setup are perfect,” he says. “I can take a few steps and be with everybody in the house.”

Room for All
As much as the couple loved the bones of the house, they wanted to make some changes. The Bakers, who moved into their home a year ago in May, painted all of the walls, which were coated with bright colors of red, green or yellow, a neutral color. They recently remodeled the kitchen as well. Jenny painted the island brown, and she still wants to add pendant lights above it.

“We redid all of the cabinetry. We redid the knobs,” she says. “I wanted to make them pop and match the house.”

The kitchen also includes hardwood flooring, granite countertops, a wood and metal hood above the stovetop, a decorative tile backsplash above the stovetop and a warming drawer. The island features lots of storage space and a vegetable sink.

In the adjoining breakfast area, a mirror and scroll sconces hang on the wall above a side table. A rectangular wooden chandelier hovers above the breakfast table, and a ceramic pitcher, which says “nourish,” sits on the floor near the door to the sunroom.

Upholstered and studded chairs surround the table in the formal dining room, and an upholstered bench lines one end of the table. The large square table offers ample room for the entire family, which includes two grown daughters, two college-aged sons and a son-in-law.

Photography by Sally Kolar

Jenny used construction paper and a permanent marker to stencil the small signs with inspirational words such as “Hope” and “Love” at each place setting. A plaque bearing the Lord’s Prayer sits on a stand on the table, and artificial green apples fill a wooden bowl.

“I have mixed feelings about the chandelier. It’s very dramatic. It reminds me of Beauty and the Beast,” says Jenny. “I want to change it to something more contemporary.”

The dining room also features a double trey ceiling, wainscoting on the walls, a butler’s service counter with a tile backsplash, hardwood flooring, two white columns and windows that overlook the sunroom.

A doormat in that sunroom that initially caught Jenny’s eye says, “Our Happy Place.” The outside windows of the room crank open to let in a breeze, and the room offers a relaxing view of the trees and greenery in the tranquil backyard. Four rockers offer seating, and Jenny is growing cherry tomatoes, green peppers and chives in the sunroom.

True Blue
Jenny’s favorite spots in the house are the sunroom and the sitting room, which is decorated with blue and white accessories. The pieces are arranged on the built-in bookshelves, the fireplace mantel and a curio in a corner of the room.

“I collect blue and white, but I had to stop because I got too much of it,” Jenny says.

A pair of cutout cloth blue and white ginger jars in frames are stacked on a wall. “I like to redo things,” says Jenny. “The fabric was on a pillow, and I cut it to make the jars.”

On either side of the framed fabric ginger jars, a clear glass jar sits on a small shelf surrounded by a distressed white frame. Small blue stones anchor the grass in the jars.

“I wanted something dramatic, so I got the tall grass,” says Jenny.

More glass jars are filled with white flowers on a wall in the master bedroom, which also features an upholstered headboard, a double trey ceiling, a couch by the window, a clock on a wall and a floor lamp in one corner.

A portrait of Jenny and Tahriq from their wedding day hangs on a bedroom wall. They had the portrait painted by an artist in Spain when Tahriq was stationed there during his naval career.

A door opens to the sunroom, and a set of double doors leads to the master bath. The spacious room includes tile flooring, a walk-in shower, marble countertops (which Jenny would like to replace with granite) and vanities on opposite sides of the room.

“My husband has to have his own side,” says Jenny. “I cannot share bathroom space.”

A jetted tub occupies the center of the room. The tub gives the space an air of rest and relaxation, and a pair of soothing word art signs by the tub say, “inhale, exhale” and “soak your troubles away.”

In another downstairs bedroom, Jenny’s creativity is on display. Both of their daughters used to play the violin, and she hung the violins and bows on a wall.

“I love to decorate,” says Jenny. “When we lived in Maryland, I used to walk through model homes and get ideas.”

Retreat & Reuse
The family room is Tahriq’s favorite spot in the house. “It’s a spot where I can relax, kick my feet up and watch a movie with my wife and kids,” he says.

The room includes a large leather couch; hardwood flooring; windows that overlook the backyard; an octagonal-shaped window; a raised-hearth, stacked-stone, gas fireplace; a TV; a ceiling fan and a door to sunroom. A rug on the floor softens the space.

The mantel is accented with chrome vases, and chrome lanterns sit on the fireplace hearth. White and chrome artificial flowers are tucked in greenery above the mantel.

“I spray painted some of those flowers. They were white, but I wanted chrome flowers to match the rest of the décor,” says Jenny.

A long hallway off of the family room is lined with doors that lead to rooms or closets, so Jenny made it easy for guests to find the all-important powder room. She made a wood sign that says “rest room” and hung it above the door.

“We have so many doors in this hall, so now no one is confused when they say, ‘Hey, where’s the restroom,’” says Jenny.

They turned the bonus room into an office, which came in handy after their sons had to come home from college to complete classes online because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mickey Mouse-themed memorabilia adds a dash of whimsy to the work space.

The Bakers often visited Disney World twice a year – once for a family vacation at the beginning of each summer and again in July when their sons played in AAU basketball tournaments at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. “A lot of teams from all over the world go there and compete,” says Jenny.

Tahriq coached high school and AAU basketball from 2009 until 2018, and Jenny often served as the team mom.

Their sons also like to spend time in the finished basement, which includes a brick, raised-hearth fireplace and a kitchen with tile flooring. Furnishings include a curved couch, a glass-top coffee table and an old desk that Jenny found at a local antique store.

“I snatched it up,” Jenny says of the desk. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I said, ‘It’s coming home with me.’”

A pass-through window in the kitchen opens to a covered patio, which features a granite ledge beneath the window, a tropical ceiling fan, tile flooring and a homemade putting green.

Jenny made the hanging shelves at the bottom of the basement stairs out of the wooden slats from one of her son’s old beds. They are suspended with ribbon on each side, and a button is secured on the top of each ribbon. The shelves hold bottles and a decorative “B” that Jenny wrapped in twine as well as an old point-and-shoot camera (with a flashcube – remember those?) that belonged to Jenny’s mother.

“I like seeing how I can reuse things,” says Jenny. “If I see something, I can visualize it in my head and make it happen.”

By Sarah James

Photography by Sally Kolar

Melon Ball Spritzers

  • 25.4 ounces sparkling white grape juice
  • 2 cups Sprite
  • 1 cup lemonade
  • 1 small watermelon
  • 1 small cantaloupe
  • 1 small honeydew melon
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Fresh mint leaves

Pour grape juice, Sprite and lemonade in a pitcher and stir until mixed. Place in fridge to chill. Use a melon baller to scoop out flesh of the watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon.

Place melon balls on a cookie sheet lined with foil and freeze. Once frozen, add 3-4 cups of the melon balls to the pitcher. Stir in lime juice and a few fresh mint leaves. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Place remaining frozen melon balls in individual glasses for ice cubes and pour in spritzer. Garnish with fresh mint and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Garden Party

Garden Scene

5 simple ideas to bring fun and flair to outdoor dining and décor

There’s something about eating outside that just makes food taste better. And your table might as well look pretty while you’re doing it. As stunning as Mother Nature is all by herself, it doesn’t hurt to lend her a helping hand with some ideas of your own to create a festive ambiance for an outdoor meal.

Flower Cones
Scoop up a serving of your favorite flowers to create a beautiful tablescape with flower cones. Begin by wrapping flower stems in damp paper towels and plastic wrap. Lay on squares of Kraft paper, roll into cones and tie with ribbon. Arrange cones in individual vases at each place setting or combine them in one container for a colorful centerpiece.

Going Tropical
It’s a breeze to create an island-themed table. Start with tropical flowers such as orchids, hibiscus, bromeliads and cyclamen. Add palm fronds and candles and use pretty seashells or stones to hold napkins in place on each plate. Don’t forget a tropical playlist.

Tart Smart
Sometimes it’s a brilliant idea to play with your food. To make zesty additions to place settings, turn lemons into bud vases. Cut the top off each one and scoop out the pulp (save the pulp for lemonade, cakes, muffins, sauces and marinades). Next, cut a thin slice off the bottom so the lemons will stand up. Fill with water, flowers and greenery, and voila!

Lavender’s Blue
Not all flowers are just for the garden or vase. For a surprising, outdoor-fresh taste of summer, add a dash of minced fresh culinary lavender buds or lavender flower heads (be sure not to use ornamental lavender) to baked goods, icing, jams, ice creams, even barbecue rubs and sauces. Start with a little (a little goes a long way). You can always add more as needed.

Breakfast of Champions
Picnic for breakfast? Why not? It’s a fresh and fun way to start the day. Just set a simple table — flowers, plates, napkins and utensils — and bring on the coffee, eggs and OJ. No cell phones or high-tech allowed. Just good conversation, laughter and Mother Nature.

Planting a Seed

Garden Scene

Photos courtesy of Joe Le Vert

A high school horticulture teacher grows a large collection of exotic plants on campus that attracts attention near and far.

Once when he was in Waffle House, Joe Le Vert, who teaches philosophy, theology and horticulture at Aquinas High School, overheard a remark by a high school athlete from an out-of-town school. The student said the team was going to play at “the jungle.”

Naturally, Le Vert, who has filled the campus with exotic plants for his horticulture class, knew that the student was referring to Aquinas.

“I want the environment all around the school to be really pleasant and a great experience,” he says. “I want people to feel like they’re someplace special.”

Hands-On Learning
Le Vert, who has a bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Georgia and a master’s in theology from Notre Dame University, has taught a horticulture class for 39 of his 40 years at the school. The elective course, which typically includes eight to 18 students, is open to juniors and seniors.

“The kids love to get outside. The class is always the last period of the day,” says Le Vert. “They get their hands dirty, so to speak, and get their nose out of a book.”

The campus has the largest collection of cold-hardy palms and citrus plants away from the coast in Georgia and South Carolina. “I had no idea that there were any citruses that could be grown this far north,” says Le Vert.

Other exotic plants on the grounds include tangerines; kumquats; yuzuquats, lemon and kumquat hybrids that can be used as a lemon substitute; sour oranges (but no true lemons or sweet oranges); olive trees and banana varieties.

“We don’t have many azaleas, and we don’t have any dogwoods. Augusta has plenty of them. We do other things,” Le Vert says. “We’ve tried to do the grounds as an experiment, so there’s a lot of different things growing at school that you wouldn’t ordinarily see.”

To expose the students to a variety of plants, the school grounds are filled with orchids, which grow out of soil; succulents; plants that are grown for foliage and carnivorous plants. The horticulture students tend to desert roses from East Africa and plants from South Africa, and they plant seeds from a botanical garden in Italy.

“We try to put a plant in a place where it will be the happiest,” says Le Vert. “We try not to plant anything that will require a lot of care.”

The citrus plants start blooming in March. Japanese maples bloom in the fall, and camellias bloom from November to March.

“We have something blooming 12 months out of the year,” says Le Vert. “The kids go out at lunch and pick tangerines off the tree and eat them. They also eat kumquats off the tree.”

As part of the class, the students maintain the entire campus except the front of the school and the athletic fields. They prune trees and plants, mow the grass and reseed the perennial rye grass lawns in September.

“I teach them how to plant things because everything is not planted in the same way,” Le Vert says. “I teach them about soil amendments. With some plants, we need to add clay. We have gone to Wrens to collect kaolin.”

The students also fertilize the plants, but they do not spray any of them. Every year the senior class goes to Disney World in January, and the students bring back seeds such as palm and cycad seeds that they pick up off of the grounds of the Disney hotel where they stay. The students also take some plants home with them at the end of the school year.

Le Vert conducts tours of the grounds to groups from places such as UGA, Clemson University, the Smithsonian Institute, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and local gardening clubs. The school also shares cuttings and seeds with local nurseries and has sent seeds as far as away as Italy, France and Croatia.

“We try to provide a service,” says Le Vert. “We don’t charge for anything we ship out of the country. If we ship in the United States, we ask for a donation to the school.”

Developing Lifelong Skills
Le Vert, who helped both of his grandmothers in their gardens when he was growing up, has had a lifelong affinity for nature.

“I was always interested in biology and animals, but plants are a lot easier to take care of than a dog,” he says. “They don’t have to go to the vet, and plants stay put.”

He tries to instill that same enthusiasm in his students. Through the horticulture class, he hopes they gain an appreciation for learning by doing, develop confidence to take care of a property and enjoy the beautiful landscape of their surroundings.

“We’ve had a number of kids who have gone on to work in horticultural fields,” Le Vert says. “And all of the kids are going to have a house at some time in their lives.”

One of his former students worked for Jack Nicklaus, and others have started their own landscaping or lawn maintenance companies.

Harrison Catalano, who graduated in 2015, took the horticulture class as a senior. “All four years of school, I knew it was a class I wanted to take my senior year,” he says. “I had heard so many stories about it from other classmates.”

His favorite task was driving mulch around in a golf car, but he also learned how to plant, when to groom plants and when different varieties bloom.

“I have a personal garden in my backyard. I grow basil, tulips and daisies,” Catalano says.

Michael McCormack, another 2015 graduate, also took the horticulture class during his senior year.

“It was a good chance to get outside and enjoy the weather. It is such a beautiful campus,” he says. “We didn’t have tests in the class. For our final exam, we went through the property and talked about everything we had done that year.”

McCormack says his favorite job was to maintain the palm trees, and he still helps Le Vert with the upkeep of the school grounds sometimes on Saturdays. He also says the instructor taught him as much about life as he did about horticulture.

“I think it’s really cool that ‘Le Vert’ translated from French into English means ‘the green,’” says McCormack. “I think this is his destiny.”

By Leigh Howard