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Sumter Master Gardeners prep Chocolate Garden for winter

The Chocolate Garden is one of three specialty gardens at Swan Lake Iris Gardens. It is filled with plants that look, smell or are named after chocolate.

SUMTER, S.C. — At Swan Lake Iris Gardens, the Sumter County Master Gardeners brought their shovels and they’re digging in to get the Chocolate Garden ready for winter.

Sheryn Lavanish became a master gardener in 2008.

"I love flowers! I love the color, I love the scent, I love everything about them," she shared. "I live outside. If I’m not in this garden, I’m in my garden."

And that’s not all she loves…

"Oh! I’m a chocoholic!" Lavanish exclaimed.

That is why she came up with the idea to start a Chocolate Garden in Sumter after hearing about the idea from a garden in Washington. 

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"And it absolutely intrigued me," she remembered. "It is supposed to be things in here that either smell like chocolate, have the chocolate color, or maybe the stems or the branches or the leaves have the chocolate color to them. And then there’s always some other color just to add some whimsy to the whole thing and just make it fun."

Now, Lavanish is working with other gardeners to get this garden ready for winter. On Wednesday, they had their final workday of the season. From planting winter vegetables to trimming back branches to laying down pine straw, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Janice Hilton is the president of the Sumter County Master Gardener Association. 

"A master gardener is a person who’s been trained in a class by the [Clemson] Extension agents and has the knowledge to go out and find the answers to help people in their home gardens or even the farmers," she said.

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Hilton tells me this preparation not only keeps the garden beautiful, but adding more plants to the soil is good for the environment.

"Sometimes our falls and winters can be either wet or they can be on the dry side, so it keeps the weeds out and the moisture in," Hilton explained. "Then over the winter, all of that is sort of composted down. The microbes and the little animals, the worms and things, break that down and then in the spring, it gives us a richer soil."

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Hilton says their work at the Chocolate Garden can also be done in home gardens. If you’re wondering what to do, trimming back plants, removing dead blooms and planting winter plants can be a good start. 

For more tips, Hilton says you can use the Clemson Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center at hgic.clemson.edu.

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