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Finger-pickin’ good
Pick your own berries at the Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens
Strawberry patch at the Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens - photo by Lee Futch

Since summer 2003, I've called Savannah home: It was February of 2008 before I found out that Savannah's Bamboo Farm & Coastal Gardens existed. And even then it was just a fortunate byproduct of a visit I took to nearby Keller's Flea Market. It shouldn't have taken five years for this 46-acre garden to come to my attention, so now that we are in the middle of you-pick blackberry season I'm letting more people know.

On the last Sunday in April, I attended The Friends of Coastal Gardens 14th Annual Sunday Supper in the Strawberry Patch, hosted by WTOC’s Sonny Dixon, a long time supporter of the gardens dating back to his days representing West Chatham as a state representative.

That evening’s supper featured Strawberry Short Cake (thanks to Derst Baking for donating the shortcakes) with strawberries right from the Bamboo Gardens own you-pick strawberry patch. Habersham Beverage, Publix and Outback Steakhouse also donated food and drink to the event, all of which was prepared and served by Alan Barnes and his staff from Barnes Restaurants.

The strawberry shortcake was terrific. As for the rest of the food? I just filled my plate started eating and then, despite photographer Lee telling me to slow down and enjoy the food, the next thing I knew my fried chicken, corn bread, yellow squash, Vidalia onions and black eyed peas were gone. And I wanted more.

After dinner we took a walk through the strawberry fields where 20,000 strawberry plants yielded 5 to 6 tons of Chandler variety strawberries from the beginning of March through the end of May. Dr. Stephen Garton, the superintendent of the farms, explained that the Chandler variety of strawberry is “great for the fresh market because it tastes sweet and has relatively large berries so they’re easy to pick and the flavor holds up well.”

From Memorial Day through the end of July the Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens are in the second year of go-on-a-date, bring-the-whole-family, you-pick blackberry season. The blackberry variety is the Kiowa, which assistant superintendent Jeffrey Webb described as a prolific variety with large, high quality, easy to pick fruit.

Picking is easy! The plants are in nice neat rows. The fruit is plentiful and while there are thorns on the blackberry bushes the berries themselves are quite easy to access without getting stuck. And of course, the big key - they taste terrific straight off the plant. And according to Mr. Webb, it’s okay if you snack while you pick!

Moving into mid-October, the shift is back to the same slightly-over-one-acre field where the strawberries were planted for its transformation into a pumpkin patch, which I’m lookin’ forward to...I loves me some pumpkin pie and pumpkin seeds are mighty fine for saltin’ and bakin’!

As for the Bamboo Farm part of the Coastal Gardens I’m skipping the history lesson. Right here in the present there are over 120 different types of bamboo at the Gardens including Japanese Timber Bamboo, the type that was featured in the hit movie Flying Dragon, Leaping Tiger and Thompkin Cane, which is often said to make some of the best fly fishing rods. There are even bamboo plants at the Gardens that are 150 years old!

I had the opportunity to speak with former president of the Chatham Area Chamber of Commerce who is the current president of the Friends of Coastal Gardens, Alan Beals. He told me that one of the keys roles that the Gardens plan to take in the future is to serve as a demonstration site for people to see and learn about what kind of plants will grow and flourish in our local environment.

Currently five varieties of “Knockout Roses” are in bloom and will be until the end of fall. And for a full 11 months a year (August-June) the Gardens grow Camellia. By the end of this summer there will be well over 750 Camellia plants in over 50 varieties in what Alan expects to be the largest Camellia garden east of the Mississippi within 4 to 5 years.

The money for all of this comes from a three sources: The University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Chatham County and donations from private citizens. I spoke with U.G.A.’s Agriculture College Dean J. Scott Angle, who said the Coastal Gardens are one of the system’s sites that have the biggest growth potential.

I’ll be going back for more blackberries and maybe from time to time I’ll simply step away from my many jobs and take the opportunity to just stop and smell the roses.

Bamboo Farms and Coastal Gardens You-Pick Blackberries

When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat. Where: Intersection of U. S. 17 South and Canebrake Road.Cost: Free admission, $3 per pound blackberries.Info: 912-921-5460

Peggy Futch's Simple and Easy Blackberry Cobbler

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 Stick of butter

1 Cup of self-rising flour

1 Cup of sugar

1 Cup of milk

1 1/2 Cups of blackberries

In oven, melt 1 stick of butter in a 1 1/2 qt. casserole dish. While butter is melting mix together the flour, sugar and milk. Pour the mixture over the melted butter. Do not stir. Pour the blackberries over the mixture. Do not stir. Place back in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling. Enjoy topped with vanilla ice cream.