BullStreet Gone Wild: Heirloom Plantings Restore “Sandhills Meadow” at Bull and Elmwood

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

The main entrance to the BullStreet District is getting a facelift for the first time in decades, and passengers in the 40,000 cars that pass by the entrance daily will get a glimpse of how the land might have looked a century ago before development.

The entrance at the intersection of Bull Street and Elmwood Avenue is being restored as a “Sandhills Meadow,” showcasing heirloom and native plants, wildflowers and grasses, most all perennials, which have adapted to the Midlands’ sandhills environment. Learn more at http://bullstreetsc.com/bullstreet-sandhills-meadow.

Plantings include a living fence made of Carolina jessamine (a.k.a. yellow jessamine, the S.C. state flower), as well as beds featuring silver blueberry, giant sea holly, Milk and Wine and Orange River crinum lilies, jonquils, cord grass, switchgrass, blue salvia, red hibiscus, evening primrose, climbing Carolina aster, sensitive vine, toadflax, heliotrope, swamp sunflower and more.

The entrance’s naturalistic plantings, which are environmentally friendly and will provide natural beauty as they flower and flourish this spring, summer, fall and beyond, are intended as a model for the BullStreet District’s future public spaces, including the 20-acre park and pond now under construction.

“In every facet, the BullStreet District honors the past as we build toward the future, so naturalistic landscaping is a logical extension of that idea,” said Robert Hughes, president of Hughes Development Corporation. “It’s the environmentally responsible thing to do, and we hope to attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife to their natural sources of food.”

Hughes has commissioned noted horticulturist Augustus Jenkins Farmer III to plant and establish the entranceway, in deference to the conscientious, New Urbanist principles that are driving the neighborhood’s 20-year development timeline.

An eighth generation South Carolinian, “Jenks” Farmer is a renaissance plantsman who has been featured in the New York Times, Garden & Gun, Southern Living and the Dallas Morning News.

Author of the 2014 Timber Press book, Deep Rooted Wisdom; Lessons from Generations of Gardeners, Farmer led teams to plant and establish the vision for two of South Carolina's major botanical gardens, Riverbanks Botanical Garden and Moore Farms Botanical Garden, as well as the gardens at the historic Seibels House in Columbia, S.C., and he served on the design team at Colonial Lake in Charleston, S.C.

“It makes me proud to see naturalistic planting prioritized right in the heart of Columbia,” Farmer said. “This is a chance to bring back what was here many years ago, before the hospital campus was developed. This is exactly the opposite of monoculture, in which everything is planted in straight lines, a remnant of formal garden landscaping. Instead, all of the grasses, perennials, bulbs and plants will be mixed in together—just like in nature, where plants interact and support one another.” he said.

New Urbanism and the BullStreet District

Across the BullStreet District, Hughes Development Corporation will employ the principles of New Urbanism, prioritizing sustainability, public art, walkability, and attention to detail at each stage of the development, so that the streets and public spaces will feel safe, welcoming, comfortable and interesting for residents and visitors, reinforcing a sense of connection with the natural environment.

“Attention to detail is what makes a great place,” notes Hughes. “We’re not using the suburban shopping center model here; we are creating an extension of downtown Columbia that people can enjoy for decades to come.”

Narrow streets with wide sidewalks like the ones already laid in the BullStreet District, on Boyce Street, for example, will calm traffic and encourage people to get out of their cars and walk around. Savannah, Georgia and Portland Oregon, known for their short blocks and walkable, pedestrian friendly spaces, are cities where it is common practice to park the car, stroll around and enjoy the day.

Environmentally friendly practices like the water-saving, naturalistic landscape design at Bull and Elmwood, comprised wholly of perennial plants (which come back year after year instead of needing to be pulled up and replaced each year), are an expression of the master developer’s commitment to sustainability and good design.

A Place Where Plants Function as a Community

Farmer also said no synthetic fertilizer and insecticides will be used. “We are creating a place where plants function as a community. That includes the lives of pollinators and insects as well as life you don’t see such as worms, micro-insects and very important bacteria and fungi. Man-made chemicals destroy very important components of the community we want to establish,” Farmer said.

Farmer’s first priority before planting anything was replacing eight tons of decaying wood chips at the entrance with composted soil and other natural elements. The living fence, made of reinforced concrete wire, was custom welded by a local Midlands Technical College student.

While most of the plantings can’t be seen now, he said the plant show will commence this spring. “In early spring, we’re going to have an eruption of wildflowers, followed by blooming perennials and other plants and grasses that have chosen the Midlands as their home over centuries.”

Each season will bring new and surprising plant life.

The new “Sandhills Meadow” garden is planted at the intersection of Bull Street and Elmwood Avenue, where traffic flows between Highway 126, Highway 277 and the streets of downtown Columbia, S.C. The garden is adjacent to the historic, Robert Mills-designed Asylum building, which houses hundreds of employees of DHEC. Behind the garden, the iconic dome of the historic Babcock Building rises above the tree line.