Step inside Hay Hill Garden Market, in Columbia, South Carolina, and you’ll notice that something is amiss. The usual garden center suspects like hoes and trowels have been replaced with English artisan–forged tools. Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons echo through the speakers. Dough bowls rest on antique furniture, and rough-hewn cedar logs turned benches provide a convenient prop for packages of small-batch pork rinds. The freezer full of just-up-the-road Manchester Farms quail confirms it: This isn’t your average pick-and-pay greenhouse.
“We went all over trying to find unique items that you just can’t find most places,” says the owner, Fred Gantt, of his mission to create one of the South’s most distinctive outdoor living destinations. Designed for the region’s warm summers and mild winters, the market, which opened last March, grew out of Hay Hill Services, Gantt’s landscaping firm. After years of transforming the best yards in the Midlands of South Carolina into boxwood-lined and terraced paradises, Gantt wanted a one-stop shop where he could show clients potential hardscape materials or lighting and masonry options while also spotlighting hard-to-get products and plants.
Filled with custom-made copper lanterns, Holland grills, and Brown Jordan outdoor furniture, not to mention Southern jams and relishes, Hay Hill is an outpost for everything from perennials and planters to outdoor kitchens complete with oyster cookers. And the oyster knives and cocktail sauce, too.
In fact, Gantt has a personal connection to many of the items around the store. Interior walls are lined with loblolly pine planks harvested from his family’s Calhoun County farm. And through huge roll-up doors, the market connects to a woodworking shop where Gantt himself often creates farm tables from recycled wood originally intended for floors of Norfolk Southern Railway cars. Tiered shade cloths made from old Union Camp factory conveyor belts cover outdoor plants such as Copper Canyon daisies, Snow-n-Summer Asiatic jasmine, and Mr. Bowling Ball Arborvitae.
Choosing plants at Hay Hill means advice, if you want it, from horticulturist Kevin Shaw, who helps gardeners pull together massive planters by making house calls to their porches. Heirloom expert Jenks Farmer is also often on hand to dispense botanical insight on native species.
As you’d expect, spring at Hay Hill will be big. On offer: grilling seminars, classes on raised beds for urban gardening, and plenty of heirloom plants and herbs.
With a full on-site kitchen, the market has also become a place for gatherings, from every-other-week garden club meetings to all-day Saturday tailgates come fall. “We get our fire pits going and some oysters,” Gantt says. “It’s like having a party in a garden.”