Lady with the Leopard Skin Boots
I am standing in the middle of the Hilton Head Plantation Seabrook Farm at Plot 27. The day before, I met Frances Sampson and she talked to me about this garden plot she shares with her husband, Charles, and her friend, Susan Starr. She got my attention when she said, "It's just so therapeutic to start tearing out all those weeds instead of pulling my own hair out." When she brought out her gardening boots-leopard skin, rubber topped with floating cherries (featured in the accompanying picture)-I knew I had to visit the plot in person and commune with Frances' garden spirit to get a full sense of this feisty, funny woman.
Frances greeted me at the door of her Hilton Head home with Mac and Fergie, her white and black Scotties. There was a rush of barking and bribing with treats before we settled in. Frances was casual and buoyant in capris and a t-shirt. Her hair is streaked and still has the hint of a redhead. Frances came to Hilton Head after college with her husband Charles in 1972 and raised three daughters, who in turn have stayed in the area and are raising Frances' three grandsons and two-and-a-half granddaughters (one due in August).
Frances talks about old Hilton Head and growing up in Walterboro and then Aiken. She is a natural storyteller. I am southern enough (my mother's side) to know that living inside the most serene, elegant, well-appointed homes, one can find the most colorful, kicky women characters. Frances and her beautiful home confirm this. At one point, when I am in stitches over a story she refused to let me put in print, she said, "Yeah you might say there's some spit in me. I blame it all on my dad."
I find Plot 27 because Frances has told me it is next to a yellow umbrella and has a big metal pelican in the middle. A pelican, not a duck as some misguided Northerner mistakenly thought. I laughed when Frances announced with a gleeful twinkle, "By the grace of God, I'm Southern."
Plot 27 has two bags of Black Kow composted manure placed on the edge of the 25' x 25' plot. In December Frances planted 500 Vidalia onions. Their green top shoots are proud and upright on this early spring Saturday. A miniature ceramic alligator, sitting cross-legged on a small pedestal, surveys the rich dark soil; the worn hoes and rakes lean against a weathered wood support. The morning light and air are soft and fresh. There is a surround sound of bird calls. I sense what she loves here. The garden yields brussel sprouts, kale, red lettuce, green lettuce and cabbage. The tomatoes don't get planted before Good Friday. Last year she canned 26 quarts of tomatoes and put up 26 heads of cabbage. There will be corn (Silver Queen and yellow/white), carrots, and all types of peppers.
Frances may be most famous for the home-grown collard greens she and Charles serve at their annual New Year's Day party where they hosts more than 400 guests; almost as famous as he is for his BBQ and roast pigs. The tradition says to serve collard greens for wealth and prosperity (she says, "You're supposed to put a silver dollar in with the collard greens but that got too expensive."); Hoppin' John for good luck; and roast pig for friendship.
Standing at Plot 27, I conjure Frances in her boots. "I need them to keep that black dirt out of my toenails. I can't afford that many pedicures." Frances and Susan let Charles use the gas tiller and chain saw, which Frances describes as his "boy toys". "He tries to take over but we don't let him." She smiles a lot and peppers her conversation with "dang." During the growing seasons (there are two), she tries to work in the garden at least an hour a day. As soon as she pulls her boots out, Mac & Fergie know it's time to garden. They are fearless rodent hunters who keep the plot free of moles.
I inhale a final breath of rich garden air layered with a subtle hint of onion. I sense the presence of a woman happily laboring in flashy leopard boots who reaps what she sows. a fun, carefully tended, abundant, fulfilling life.
Family Line-up: Frances is the sixth of eight children and Charles is the sixth of seven children. "Big families teach you how to share and take care of each other." Their daughters Beth, Angela, and Lauren have stayed close.
Family Business: Frances, Charles and one of their daughters run the Charles Sampson Real Estate Group at Charter 1 Realty.
Wine Collection: Charles keeps bottles of Marilyn Merlot on hand.
Born, Raised & Educated: Frances was born in Walterboro and moved to Aiken when she was 3 or 4. She attended USC. Charles went to Erskine College in Due West, SC before arriving in Hilton Head to be a teacher.