The grounds at The Cloister were transformed from an animal pasture to a lush oasis, thanks in large part to Sea Island’s original landscape architect.
By Ashley Ryan
Looking at the immaculate landscapes at The Cloister, one would never guess that the land once served as a pasture for goats, hogs and cows. Now, brilliant evergreen shrubs, towering live oak trees, leafy ferns and colorful flowers fill the space.
While much of the plant life wasn’t present at the turn of the 20th century, that’s not to say that it is new. Before The Cloister first opened in 1928, Howard Coffin, the resort’s founder, enlisted the help of a fellow Ohio native, 23-year-old Talmadge Miesse Baumgardner, to sculpt the grounds. And sculpt he did. Baumgardner, who finished his studies at Ohio State University in 1927 with his degree in landscape architecture, worked as the resort’s head of landscape operations until 1974, then stayed on as a landscape architect for the company for several more years.
His mark on the land is undeniable, and many of the trees Baumgardner planted are still thriving today. He worked closely with Coffin to bring his vision to life.
“Mr. Coffin was insistent that palm trees be planted as they were in nature—in clumps, not in rows,” says Merry Tipton, director of marketing communication at the resort. “So we do not have rows of palms, as you might see elsewhere, but as Mother Nature intended. Mr. Baumgardner set the tone early on for what our landscape teams continue to do today.”
Now, the land is a vibrant, flourishing scene that feels like it is straight out of a dream. “Virtually everything we have is evergreen so the lush appearance of the landscape is constant,” Tipton explains.
In addition to the oak trees as well as the cabbage, sago and date palms found on the property, Southern magnolias blossom with fragrant white flowers while crepe myrtles, cedar trees, resurrection ferns, ornamental kale, American holly and fatsia japonica add more pops of green. Visit The Cloister in the springtime to see a flurry of color as the azaleas begin to bloom, coloring the area with shades of pink, white and red. While these vivid flowers are a sight to see—especially considering Coffin had the hotel’s original azaleas brought over from his home on Sapelo Island—eyes might also be drawn to vines of star jasmine, geraniums, daffodils, hydrangeas, bougainvillea, trumpet vines, hibiscus, wisteria, New Guinea impatiens and more.
The Cloister Garden, an outdoor space at the hotel, is often used for weddings. Its verdant appearance makes it one of the most ideal settings for special gatherings.
Sea Island Co.’s work doesn’t end at the resort grounds, however. Through the company’s Property Services department, local residents are also able to take advantage of stellar landscaping services.
“They provide everything from simple lawn maintenance to developing a complete landscape plan for a new home,” Tipton says. “Once the design is installed, our team takes care of it for our customers, including continued upkeep with colorful seasonal planting.”
All of this stems from those early oaks and palms planted on pastures. Baumgardner created a setting that would continually be expanded and improved upon so that every visitor could enjoy the beauty of nature.