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Elaine Hawkinson: Master Gardener and Grandma

Remember that Grandmother of mine who bakes the best home-made pies? Well, pies are not her only specialty. As much as she loves baking, she loves working in her garden even more. Elaine has loved flowers and gardens since she can remember. Her father grew tomato plants and her mother had a vegetable garden. Elaine said, “My maternal grandmother spent more time gardening than doing housework – I guess I inherited that gene. HA! If I can possibly get out of doing house chores and be out in my yard instead, that’s where I want to be.” Although green thumbs run in her family, Elaine’s was most certainly the greenest of all.

Elaine’s four children did not carry on the tradition of gardening, but they did enjoy the outdoors. Elaine’s daughter, the youngest, would help her plant new flowers if her mother asked. All three of her boys mowed lawns in high school for their jobs, but they were so busy that Elaine would usually end up mowing their lawn herself. The oldest son who was very specific about it would say, “Mom! Your lines are not straight! Do not mow the grass, just wait, and I will do it right.” Even though green thumbs did not reproduce into her offspring, we can still say with certainty that the quality of being particular still runs in the family.

Before Elaine was a true master of caregiving to her botanicals, she spent a majority of her life nursing humans. Elaine grew up in Northern Indiana and graduated with a Bachelor of Science and Nursing at Indiana University. Thirty years later, she attended Valparaiso University to get her master’s and became a Nurse Practitioner. Elaine has a bond with her garden as if they are real patients though. She worries about them and gets upset if she sees there is a disease or a struggle. She talks to her plants and is proud of them when they are flourishing. She said, “I am especially vocal in the Spring when my yard comes alive with the Perennials that emerge from Winter’s dormant period.” She also names some of her plants. “Big Mama” is a huge Thanksgiving cactus. Elaine informed me that Cacti are easy to propagate so when a branch falls off, she sticks it in the soil, and it roots quickly. “Little Sis” is a testament to this statement; she became her own cactus from branches from Big Mama, and many other “sisters” have found homes with friends of hers. Elaine states, “I just cannot throw away any plant if there is a chance it can survive.”

I asked Elaine what unique tips she has to be a successful Gardener and she replied with, “Sometimes my efforts for success don’t happen. I just keep trying. I amend my flower beds with compost every two years. Last spring, I had three yards delivered and it took me two weeks to spread – I got to know my wheelbarrow very well. If I have certain plants that are struggling, I take a sample of the soil to get it tested. For a small fee, you receive the analysis of Ph (soil acidity and alkalinity), the mineral content of the soil, and how to amend it if there is an imbalance. This testing can be done at the Clemson Extension office in Georgetown or the True Blue Nursery in Pawleys Island. I also read articles from various gardening magazines, but my ‘garden bible’ is the Southern Living Garden Book (2016 edition). Every Gardener in the south needs it!”

Elaine met my Grandpa Allen a few years after receiving her master’s degree. The married and newly retired couple moved to the Grand Strand together in 2004. During their first holiday season living in Pawleys Island, my parents, Mark and Tara Hawkinson gave them a membership to Brookgreen Gardens as a Christmas present. During their first visit to the eclectic botanical gardens, Elaine discovered that Brookgreen offered a Master Gardener class through the Clemson Extension program. Becoming a Master Gardener was always a dream of Elaine’s, so she was thrilled to advance her horticulture knowledge in such a beautiful setting. After forty volunteer hours and several weeks of training, Elaine was a certified Master Gardener and she was even the Grand Strand Master Gardeners Association president for a few years.

Both Allen and Elaine have been volunteering at Brookgreen for fifteen years. Allen volunteers in the galleries while Elaine mostly tends to the greenhouse and the gardens. She refreshes the display table twice a week. She goes out into the garden and selects cuttings from whatever is growing according to the season. Right now, Camellia Japonicas are abundant. Elaine and Allen both give sculpture garden tours. Elaine likes to think that she plants seeds of knowledge while leading the tours. She gives tips about pruning, soil maintenance, water requirements, and does her best to answer all the questions she is asked. She also likes to think that she planted the seed of love of horticulture in her husband. Twenty years ago, he had no interest in gardening. Now, Allen has a good base of knowledge and enjoys talking about what is growing in their yard.

When I asked Elaine what else she likes to do for fun or to relax, she replied, “Remember the word, ‘retirement.’ I have plenty of time for myself. I can make the day as busy as I want, or not. That’s one perk of being a senior citizen.” Elaine loves craft projects such as card making and creating scrapbooks from trips or events. When we had to evacuate due to the last hurricane, her scrapbooks were the first thing she packed. The duo loves to travel and enjoys the culture overseas. She also claims to be an “active old gal” as she still jogs, and lifts weights a few times every week. Relaxing for Elaine usually involves working in her yard, walking on the beach, or reading a good book. Five O’clock is the time she and Allen sit down together with a glass of wine to discuss the day. This time is mostly spent on their Carolina back porch, which is also when Allen points out all of the parts of the yard that he thinks she needs to prune.

Elaine finds contentment, accomplishment, and peace of mind when she works in her garden. She calls it her “natural anti-depressant.” There are scientific facts about plant life boosting your mental health. It is very satisfying to see the results of all your effort in helping them grow. The last question I asked Elaine was, “Do you believe that we reap what we sow?” She nodded her head yes, and said, “Absolutely, and right now, we need to sow more tolerance, compassion, and forgiveness for others.” I agree with my wise grandmother, it is very much the time to be as patient with people as Elaine is with her plants.

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