Hyped on Hydrangeas

June 2013
Written By: 
Denise Mullen
Photographs by: 
Christopher Shane

Martha Knight’s blooming backyard is a tropical oasis




One night in her sleep, Martha Knight had a vivid premonition that she would move into her friend’s home, and everything about it felt so right.

When she purchased the oldest home built on 48th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach from a dear friend in 1988, this vision was fulfilled. Martha settled into and expanded her dream home, but the sprawling backyard garden would become what dreams are really made of.

Original owner Elenor Whitsett was an active, busy woman who passed on her property to Martha in her late 80s, moving to a “more manageable” second-story apartment because she was “not ready for a senior place yet.”     
A stately Chinese tulip magnolia tree was the centerpiece for the yard, with a smattering of traditional Southern azaleas and camellias.
But Martha’s gardening ancestry runs taproot-deep, and over time she transformed the simply landscaped backyard into a magical oasis, lush with the bold blossoms of every species of hydrangea, garden art, specimen trees, flowering annuals and a quaint potting cottage.
And slowly but surely, the garden began to define her life.
“My hydrangea collection started with a mophead that my mama rooted for me,” says Martha. “I got a lot of inspiration from my aunt, Jean Dusenbury, who had long ties with Brookgreen Gardens. … She always gave me daisies and trumpet vines and lots of gardening tips.

“And one year my friends threw me a big garden-theme birthday party and I was loaded up with seeds and pots and gardening tools.”
As time went on, it seemed Martha had a knack for growing the sometimes finicky hydrangea, and the mophead was joined by sister species—the delicate lacecap, the showy spires of oakleaf, fluffy PeeGee and the lavender hues of Star Gazer.
The rooted sprig of a Confederate Rose Tree made its way to the back of the yard and reached for the sky, and a Dogwood came to serve as the harbinger of spring.        

A long promenade that spans one side of the house and connects to the back gardens became affectionately known as “The Walk of Love,” the bridal pathway for the wedding of Martha and Freddie Knight, a green-thumb match between an avid gardener and a landscaper.
“It was perfect,” says a smiling Martha. “We got married right here at the house on a Wednesday night, walked up our Love Walk and went to dinner at Flamingo’s.”

And once you lay eyes on it, you can plainly see that pure love went into creating the enchanting walkway, complete with privacy fencing, seating areas, fountains, plantings and ambient lighting that twinkles through the night.
Special occasions and events center around the Knight garden. “We had 25 people over for an Easter celebration,” says Martha. “Tables were set out around the yard and I gave all the children a pair of scissors and 15 vases. I told them to go out in the yard and make their own centerpiece. You wouldn’t believe how pretty they were with spring flowers, ferns and all kinds of greenery.”
Not only are Martha and Freddie known for throwing charming outdoor fetes and down-home backyard parties, the bounty of their garden is shared in many unique ways.
Martha has made casket sprays, rooted cuttings for those who want to add her plants to their landscape and brightened someone’s day with a beautiful flower arrangement.
“I like to give my flowers to people, to share them. … It makes me happy,” Martha explains.
And especially when it comes to the hydrangeas, the garden propagates its way into the Knight home by blossoming in wallpaper, fabrics and vases.
“You should see what Martha does with dried hydrangea at Christmas,” says Freddie with a wink. “They’re in the tree and decorations all over the house. It’s really something.”