April 2022 Issue
By Kelly Hunter
Photography by Mike Force Photography
Gardener and jewelry artist Sandy Anderson was a single mother, working full-time as a county extension agent while raising her daughter Amy, and then part-time for Emory University, before retiring to St. Simons Island in 2010.
The precision and organization required to pull that off is evident in her home and garden, as is her favorite color: blue. Sandy’s favorite plants include “Indigo Princess agapanthus, blue hydrangeas, plumbago, Blew-My-Mind and Tractor Seat plant.”
After we toured her small, but impeccably laid out garden, photographer Mike Force and I enjoyed a quick glass-blowing demonstration in Sandy’s home glass studio. She’s been making glass bead jewelry for twenty years, since Amy went off to college, and loves the challenge of always learning new techniques.
“The bead making world is just fascinating because there’s so much out there. When I started, all the beads were pretty basic,” Sandy said. “It’s been so much fun to watch the detail and precision, and with social media you can see what’s being done all over the world.” Decades of bead making have resulted in an impressive and multi-colored jewelry wardrobe. She wears solid color clothes because she generally puts on whatever jewelry matches her mood of the day.
Sitting on Sandy’s screened back porch, we could hear the fountain and a variety of birdsong. This porch is the perfect perch to truly appreciate the peaceful outdoor oasis she has created. She hasn’t made as much jewelry lately, because she’s been focused on getting her garden ready for the Cassina Garden Club’s upcoming Garden Walk. This will be the second time her garden has been on the tour, but the place would be unrecognizable to anyone who saw it on the 2013 tour. Her home and garden have both come a long way from when she first bought the place twelve years ago.
Sandy explained how she came to the Golden Isles, “When I started to work in the early seventies, I had good friends who were extension agents and lived on St. Simons. I would come down and spend the weekends with them, and I just absolutely loved St. Simons.” She paused to ask, “Have you ever had something that just would never work out that you really wanted?” Sandy had always wanted to live on the island, but the budget was always out of reach. Each time she would visit, she would read the listings and drive by houses, with little hope of making her dream come true.
Then, while visiting during a Martin Luther King holiday, she spotted a foreclosure listing in St. Clair. “I said, ‘Let’s ride by this one. I know it’s an impossibility, but let’s just look.” The home had sat empty for five years, so there was plenty of work to be done on the inside and the outside. Sandy added, “The people who had lived here were not gardeners. I mean, they had done nothing. It was overgrown with azaleas.” But, Sandy was undeterred. She saw it as a math problem, and she was going to make it work.
After selling her Atlanta house much sooner than expected and living in a rental while she worked out her last weeks at Emory, she made the move. “I have never regretted the decision,” she smiled, “I think it’s the nicest place to be, and it’s because of the people. You can get so involved in everything and have so much fun doing it!”
Boy, did she get involved! She started by joining the Newcomers Club, transitioned to Coasters, joined book and garden clubs, and even started a few groups. “I’m all the time starting something,” Sandy laughed. She and 12 friends have been getting together every month for a potluck since 2011. And that’s just one of the cooking groups she’s in! She also helped form a group of four ladies who work in each other’s gardens once a month. “Three times a year you get to work in your own yard, but I’ve learned so much working in my friends’ yards,” Sandy said.
Of course, the pandemic brought most of these activities to a sudden halt about 18 months ago. Sandy knows herself and told me, “I don’t do ‘nothing’ well,” so she came up with a pandemic project. “I’ve always been overweight, and I was thinking one time in my life I would like not to be. I didn’t even know what it would feel like.” Nine months and 50 pounds later, she realized she needed a new wardrobe. Another nine months, and she has kept the weight off. Sandy said, “I have a lot more energy. Being stuck at home, I think I’ve worked more in the yard, because I want to exercise.”
As such, Sandy now has a favorite gardening tip: “Make an annual calendar of things that need to be done in your yard. There are several books out there…go through and pick out what you need to do for your plants that you have in your yard, and just list it. Every month it’s very simple to look at your list and know that these are the maintenance things you need to do.” Of course, it also helps to choose the right plants for your climate and temperament.“I only plant low-maintenance stuff. If you choose the right ones, the plants basically take care of themselves.”
Take the Tour: You can see Sandy’s garden and seven others on Cassina Garden Club’s 16th Annual Tabby and Tillandsia Garden Walk, April 30th. Hers is the one called “Shades of Green.” The Garden Walk is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 on tour day. Pre-purchase tickets at cassinagardenclub.org. Advance tickets are also available locally at Ace Garden Center, GJ Ford Bookshop, St. Simons Drug Company and Righton Books.
There will also be a Plant Sale and Garden Party at the Hamilton Plantation Cabins on Gascoigne Bluff, open to the public on tour day. This is a fantastic opportunity to purchase plants cultivated by members of the Cassina Garden Club. Proceeds from the Garden Walk and Plant Sale will help maintain and preserve Cassina’s historic tabby cabins and gardens.