Down an oak-lined dirt road in Beech Island, South Carolina, just around the corner from Redcliffe Plantation, an 18th-century yellow farmhouse sits firmly planted among red barns, pastures and lush gardens. Behind the house, a chandelier swings lazily in the breeze from the rafters of an old chicken house, obscuring the sign hanging on its wall that reads “REGINA’S DISCO LOUNGE HWY. 301 NORTH.” Past these farmstead buildings, across the earthen driveway, rows of brilliantly hued lilies spread out beyond immense oaks. An enchanting mixture of old and new, the farm feels as if it has always been here, the product of some storied past.
It is in this enchanting setting that Augustus Jenkins Farmer III, or “Jenks” as most know him, fell in love with nature. A Renaissance plantsman, writer, celebrated garden designer and horticulturist, Jenks was born into a family of artists and farmers from Allendale, South Carolina. Years before pursuing formal training in plant sciences at Clemson University and botanical garden design at the University of Washington, Jenks inherited his first Crinum in third grade from his parents, Gus and Gloria, instilling in him a life-long fascination with the lily and preoccupation with gardens.
This flowery love affair continued in 1992 when on a weekend drive to his mother’s Beech Island farm, Jenks spotted pink and white lilies blooming tall outside a shuttered juke joint—Regina’s Disco Lounge. He called the landowner and went back to procure the flowers for planting at his mother’s farm. But unbeknownst to Jenks, the neglected flowers sat atop a 400-pound cluster of bulbs. “The bulbs were like small basketballs,” remembers Jenks. “We had to use a tractor to remove them.”
Crinum lilies, frequently found in old Southern graveyards and simple country gardens and swapped among plant enthusiasts, did not garner much attention until Jenks began planting them in the Riverbanks Botanical Garden in Columbia, South Carolina, where he served as director. Later he introduced the lily at billionaire businesswoman Darla Moore’s Moore Farms Botanical Garden near Lake City, South Carolina, where, over the course of nine years, he transformed a three-acre flower garden into a botanical masterpiece spanning more than 300 acres.
With each lily he plants—and he’s planted tens of thousands—Jenks works to integrate crinums into modern landscapes. A variety of red, pink and white trumpeter flowers can now be found in an impressive number of private and public gardens across the United States as Jenks, together with his partner Tom Hall, sells and ships bulbs from his mother’s farm where at least 20 varieties are grown on a singular acre, another 40 being grown and tested for production.
While Jenks now focuses on growing and developing crinums at the farm, he helped further establish the lily during his decade-long tenure at Riverbanks Botanical Garden, planting what would become the national collection of crinums. More recently, Jenks’ work with the Southern staple has been internationally recognized. The Royal Horticultural Society recently included “Regina’s Disco Lounge” in its Royal Horticulture Plant Finder publications, meaning Jenks’ name for the pink and white flower has been widely recognized by professionals and in popular horticulture circles—a notable accomplishment for the flower farm.
Growing up, Jenks was surrounded by stories. His father, while on vacation at either Edisto Island or Bluffton, would take the family on seemingly never-ending history and garden walks in Savannah, noting plants and architectural elements and uncovering anecdotes. “Daddy would talk to anyone and pass on a good story—even if the facts weren’t firm,” says Jenks.
Just like his lily, Jenks inherited this knack for storytelling. His anecdotes and gardening wisdom acquired from gardening predecessors fill his books: Deep-Rooted Wisdom: Stories and Lessons from Generations of Gardeners (Timber Press, 2014) and Funky Little Flower Farm (Artisan Creative Group, 2019), and serve as inspiration for his lectures at venues such as the Smithsonian, writings in journals like Organic Gardening and Horticulture, and horticulture events he hosts for university groups.
At the farm he helps his mother maintain, less formal affairs like okra-pickling workshops and an annual garden open house bring friends and gardening enthusiasts together to learn and work outside—something about which Jenks is passionate. Under oak trees strung with an eclectic mix of twinkle lights, he teaches visitors that while landscapes are static and meant to look much the same year after year, gardens have movement to them; they develop over time, like a story—one he is very good at crafting.
Each garden Jenks creates is designed unique for his clients, beginning with a narrative theme—a mantra, question or statement on which the project is based. Then Jenks tailors the project to meet specific site requirements, all the while incorporating his distinct style. “I strive to keep gardens connected to rural, sometimes dirty roots,” Jenks says.
Even in formal, prestigious gardens like the one he designed for Darla Moore, the rustic and unexpected find their place. Utilizing an old forestry fire tower as a vertical focal point, Jenks forewent the traditional dovecote or folly, as he’s more inclined to incorporate vernacular elements and plants into his designs. Crinums, once considered “too country,” mingle with rare plants creating a contrast of texture and color, a carefully considered mix of high and low.
The plantsman’s methodical, artful designs, however, are not just reserved for clients with seemingly limitless budgets and large, public gardens. Recently, Jenks’ designs have found their place in tiny, new urbanism developments and even on a free-range chicken farm. “I like the challenge of any size and style,” says Jenks. “In all of it, there is some unity: creativity in plant use, the integration of artisans, craftsman and ecology. Art and science.”
The farm is just that—a mixture of art and science—a product of creativity and Jenks’ technical proficiency. A collection of familial wisdom passed down for generations, plants shared and swapped, and a site shaped by its history. Informing the future while strongly rooted in the past, this is the story Jenks lives in—the one he’s busy writing each time he gets his hands dirty.