Aiken County author explores three millenia of flora and faith

·3 min read

May 19—Aiken County resident Randy Collins grew up as a farm boy in central Indiana, on his way to decades of work as an accountant and financial consultant, largely working for IBM and logging plenty of desk time.

He and his wife, Charlotte, moved to South Carolina in 2007, and the Cedar Creek residents, now deep into their retirement years, have reset their focus to the point where his daily routine touches on such down-to-earth material as mulch, compost, lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) and nepeta (catnip), along with biblical concepts such as the cedars of Lebanon and the rose of Sharon.

The man of the house, a longtime Church of Christ member, is now 82 years old. He called on his decades of experience in both Bible studies and gardening to write a book reflecting on "the beauty and symbolism of flora from the days of King Solomon," as described in promotional material for "The Garden of the Shulamite: A Love Story Described by the Imagery and Symbolism of Plants of the Bible."

He completed the book, a product of Palmetto Publishing, in 2020, with particularly heavy emphasis on the Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs).

Some gardening terms and plants in Collins' text, such as apples, flowers, water and nuts, are kindergarten-level concepts, while others, such as calamus, henna, mandrakes and spikenard, might trigger an internet or dictionary search.

His first book, from 2019, was "Stop ... and Smell the Mints: A Glimpse into the Family of Plants Called Lamiaceae," published by Outskirts Press. Its themes include one that may be familiar to hundreds of households in Aiken County — "how to outsmart a foraging white-tailed deer who saw the garden as his personal gourmet salad bar," as described on the back cover.

Disliked by deer, he noted, are "plants with fuzzy or hairy foliage," "plants that contain compounds toxic to deer," "plants with heavily fragranced foliage," and "plants with thick, leathery or fibrous foliage."

Mints, he said, can be effective tools in looking to keep bucks, does and fawns looking elsewhere for their calories.

The author, looking back 14 years, confirmed some major adjustments in relocating about 500 miles to the Southeast.

"When we moved down here, I thought I could kind of pick up from what I'd done in Indiana, but it was quite different. New soil, new climate, new insects," he recalled.

"White-tailed deer have been a real challenge here, so ... it's like starting all over again, just about, in the area of any expertise with gardening."

"Starting all over," in terms of marriage, became a reality for Collins in 2001, when his first wife, June, passed away. He remarried in 2002 and headed south — a long way from his hometown of Greencastle, Indiana — about five years later.

The Aiken-Augusta area, he noted, presented some different chemistry in the garden from day to day, on Walton Heath Way, in Cedar Creek.

"The soil's so different ... We live on a very sandy area here, at Cedar Creek. I had to amend the soil. Brought in several truckloads of compost to get a good quality soil to grow anything in."

Results, he confirmed, have been mixed. "Gardening is just one big experiment. You know, you win some and you lose some."

The certified Master Gardener has established the habit of sharing some of his tips with visitors in a leisurely style. A free "garden walk," he noted, is set for May 20 at his house, with the chance to toss questions and answers back and forth. One session is 9 a.m. to noon and the other is 2 to 7 p.m.

"We've got about 3/4 of an acre here, and I just garden the back yard," he said. "I've got a lot of plants in a small area, and I do a lot of vertical gardening, which is growing climbers and vines upward. That's great for small space."

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