Learn How One Grandmother Inspired This Gardener to Transform His Simple Backyard Plot

Ryan Clark turned a 90- by 40-foot plot in Bluffton, South Carolina, into a thriving backyard garden.

Ryan Clark's Vegetable Garden in Bluffton, SC
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

The seed for Ryan Clark's love of gardening was planted with his grandmother when he was a kid. "My earliest memories of childhood are about gardening with her," says Clark. Fast-forward to 2016, when he was ready to cultivate the plot he built with his dad in his parents' Bluffton, South Carolina, backyard. "When I planted my first vegetables there, my grandmother was with me," he says. "It was a special moment, kind of a role reversal, and now I'm carrying on her tradition." His year-round efforts yield a bounty of organic produce, herbs, and flowers. He also collects fresh eggs from his brood of 12 hens and honey from two hives of bees. Clark describes gardening as a "total creative expression," while his background with a degree in biology helps with the plant-growing process. "I jokingly tell people that this is my full-time job outside of my real one," says Clark, who has a career in marketing. "My favorite part of the day is when I slip off my work shoes and put on my boots." Here, he takes us inside his Lowcountry oasis to share his gardening tips.

Ryan Clark's Fenced Vegetable Garden
Peter Frank Edwards

Plant Strategically

"One of the themes of the garden is duality. I put interesting companion plants together to serve different roles and help one another out," says Clark. In the front beds, for example, he pairs daffodils with society garlic, which deer don't browse. After the daffodils bloom during winter and early spring, the society garlic flowers in late spring and summer. "The leaves look very similar and take up the same amount of real estate, but you still get two kinds of blooms. Then as the daffodil foliage is regrowing for the next season, it blends into the society garlic," he says. Clark also likes to incorporate plants that can serve multiple purposes. The cypress trees and boxwood hedges placed along the border act as a screen for the garden, and he uses fresh clippings for holiday greenery.

Ryan Clark's Vegetable Garden Companion Plantings
Peter Frank Edwards

Design with Purpose

"I didn't want people to see the whole garden right from the get-go. There's a sense of adventure as they walk through the yard because I let things reveal themselves," says Clark. The flowy flower borders in front balance out the tidier, formal raised beds inside the fence. He adds a mixture of annuals, perennials, and evergreen shrubs so the beds will be in bloom year-round. Gaura, snapdragon, butterfly bush, chaste tree, and Mexican bush sage welcome bees and butterflies. Inside, the garden is divided into quadrants with beds devoted to fruits, vegetables, and cutting flowers. Wander along the pea gravel walkway to discover the chicken coop and the potting shed.

Ryan Clark's Chicken Coop
Peter Frank Edwards

Let Nature Lead

Clark leverages plants to his advantage around the chicken coop. Wisteria grows on the south-facing front side, so during the winter (when all its leaves fall off), the chickens can warm themselves in the sun. During spring and summer, the wisteria foliage comes back, providing shade and cooler temperatures. The jasmine growing on the coop adds fragrance to help mask the smell of the flock. When it comes down to it, Clark advises, "Just allow nature to do its thing, and don't try to fight it too much."

Clark's 12 hens inspired the garden's name, The Daily Dozen. Follow along with his harvests on Instagram, @the_daily_dozen.

Play to Your Strengths

When Clark had no luck growing alliums, he conceded to the climate and invested in plants that would thrive in his area. "Focus on what does well, and celebrate that. Not everyone is going to have the same success with everything. That's the beauty of it too," he says. Citrus trees love the Lowcountry conditions, so Clark went all in. Planting them along the border creates a screen for deer, squirrels, armadillos, and other bothersome animals. He harvests 'Meyer' lemons, 'Persian' limes, 'Key' limes, 'Valencia' oranges, blood oranges, and clementines, just to name a few fruits.

Peter Clark's Vegetable Garden Bounty
Peter Frank Edwards

Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor

None of the produce goes to waste because Clark shares his bounty with friends and family. He makes tomato-basil soup and pickles with some of his bumper crop and gives lemons to his grandmother, who uses them in her water every day. Clark juices the excess citrus, freezes the liquid in ice trays, and defrosts the cubes as needed. He has also experimented with homemade limoncello and clemencello.

Ryan Clark in his Vegetable Garden
Peter Frank Edwards

Spread the Joy

He loves to share his happy place with others. "The garden has been home to big life moments and also provides elements of tradition," he says. It's where a friend held their wedding and where Clark picked the flowers for his brother's nuptials. He also grows the sweet potatoes for his family's Thanksgiving meal, and his grandmother uses the oranges for her Christmas salad.

Check Out Some of Ryan's Bounty

01 of 08

Straightneck Summer Squash

Straightneck Summer Squash
Peter Frank Edwards
02 of 08

'Strawberry Candy' Daylilies

‘Strawberry Candy’ Daylilies
Peter Frank Edwards
03 of 08

Peaches

Peaches
Peter Frank Edwards
04 of 08

Eggplant Blossom

Eggplant Blossom
Peter Frank Edwards
05 of 08

'Sun Gold' Cherry Tomatoes

‘Sun Gold’ Cherry Tomatoes
Peter Frank Edwards
06 of 08

Cucumbers

Cucumbers
Peter Frank Edwards
07 of 08

Squash Blossom

Squash Blossom
Peter Frank Edwards
08 of 08

'Black Beauty' Eggplant

‘Black Beauty’ Eggplant
Peter Frank Edwards
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