Meet our GardenFORLife Writers

Bonnie Disney - East Sandhills District 

I am a retired English teacher and have taught in five different states as well as with The Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Japan and Turkey.  As the spouse of a career USAF officer, mother of five children, and grandmother of 17, I have learned to accept change, to learn quickly and to adapt wherever we are.

Upon Vern’s retirement, we settled in Sumter, SC and I became a Master Gardener and member of a local garden club; hence, my love for gardening was nurtured. I also play USTA tennis as often as possible and practice yoga.

The four acres we purchased has allowed us to have plenty of space to practice the precepts that I have learned from GardenforLife. My biggest joy has been creating a variety of pollinator gardens in different parts of our land which bees and butterflies absolutely love. 




Laurie Churchill - West Piedmont District 

Hi, I'm Laurie Churchill. I'm a member of the Lake and Hills Garden Club in Salem and Master Gardeners of the Foothills in Clemson. I have a plant addiction problem that I try to keep under control, but looking at my 1.2 acre yard right now, I don't see a lot of space for more plants....oh wait, I DO see some places I could fit in a few more! I have always tried to grow organically as much as possible, but GardenFORLife has made me even more focused on companion planting, composting and using native plants. Going forward, if I happen to buy another plant or two or nine..... I will keep GardenFORLife concepts in mind and buy native, non invasive specimens. 





Anna Sheets - West Low Country District 

My parents immigrated to the US after the second World War.  In Europe, their lives depended on living off the land; the food they grew, the animals they raised, the trees felled for cooking and warmth, were incorporated into their daily living. They instilled this respect and love of the land to my siblings and me. Oh, how I hated weeding and watering the huge garden we always had., but we saw the fruits of our labor by the variety of canned food we would eat in the winter.  In New Mexico where I grew up, you could not depend on the rain, you had to irrigate if you wanted to have a garden. It was a chore, but taught commitment to the land, patience and hard work and we shared our bounty with the neighborhood. Likewise, I did the same for my children. We had a garden, raised vegetables, and ate them fresh- picked from our backyard garden.

To me, GardenFORLife incorporates all aspects of managing your gardens, your yards, and your neighborhood. I like the diversity. GFL has opened my eyes to the interconnection between nature and the environment.  It has shown me the importance of our native plants, our pollinators, our birds, and animals. How we depend on each other for survival. How we impact each other.

Although, I do not have a formal garden, anymore, I do plant edibles in amongst my flowerbed such as tomatoes, herbs along borders and more native plants for pollinators in the flowerbed.  My GFL interests now include growing and showing camellias in Camellia Shows around the southeast. And that is OK. GFL allows you to be as diverse as you want. I use organic fertilizers to feed all my yard. I have bees that pollinate those camellias which I have learned to respect and provide food for. I feed the birds in my yard and provide trees and shrubs for shelter. I see my yard now as an ecosystem for all the plants and creatures that live and visit my yard.



Gina Ginther - East Piedmont District 

My husband, Bob and I were born and raised in southern California. We lived most of our lives in the south Orange County beach area, where we raised our two daughters before retiring to South Carolina in 2006. When not in the garden, I love spending time at our beach house with family and friends. I hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing and have been a registered nurse for almost 40 years with practice experience in adult critical care, emergency medicine and solid organ transplantation. I also hold a Public Health Nurse Certificate and volunteer my services as a registered nurse to programs for disabled children.

After moving from California, where everyone’s garden is manicured and lawns look like carpet 365 days a year, I soon realized that gardening is truly a regional challenge and after a disastrous first year in my new garden, I joined my local garden club, Gardening on the Cay, to learn more about gardening in the southeast. After almost fifteen years, my garden is certainly greener, but I’m still trying to outwit the deer!

The GardenFORLife! Initiative has significantly changed my gardening outlook and practice. It’s been a pivot point for my gardening goals and has actually made my time in the garden less stressful and more enjoyable. Although our front landscape remains pruned and manicured to respect the theme of the neighborhood, our backyard is over three fourths of an acre and is mostly wooded. With an abundance of shade, and the challenge of deer seeking dinner, I have changed my expectations and let my garden “have her way”. My husband has built a beautiful natural river rock stream, a magical 300foot functioning water feature that weaves gracefully through the trees, from the highest to the lowest point of the property. Wildlife can be seen enjoying a quick sip and the sound of running water is beautiful! Birdhouses and feeders punctuate the entire property. We hung a hammock in the center to gaze at the tree canopy and watch the birds. Closer to the house, we have added some flagstone pavers and planted dwarf mondo grass in the gaps for places to sit, watch the fireflies, and enjoy a fall fire. And the rest of the property, well, it’s simply our GardenFORLife! Totally natural, native, and beautiful, unscripted, mostly people-free, but with small places we can be to observe and listen. We are using the GardenFORLife! Worksheet as our guide for maintenance, and step by step, we are adding recommended plants to our habitat to maximize density. And yes, our garden is certified! We now find ourselves spending so much more time outside, not doing chores, but just enjoying and taking in nature.

We think it has truly become our very own GardenFORLife!    

Kate Copsey - East Low Country District 

I am a transplant from England and lived in Holly Hill SC for almost 4 years, although we have been in the USA for over 30 years. I have moved, and put in gardens in, many states and in zones 5-8. I certified as a Master Gardener in Virginia in 1999 and kept that certification through moves to Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and New Jersey. My volunteer hours were mainly in the community gardens and giving talks.

My talks range from basic organic gardening techniques, pollinators and vegetable gardening to historic gardens including a talk as The Heirloom Gardener as seen through the eyesof a lady gardener in 1925. I also do freelance garden writing. I have two books published: The Downsized Vegetable Garden (2016) and The New York & New Jersey Month by Month Gardening (2017).

In my current garden I garden for all manner of life by aiming to attract as many insects and birds as possible with a variety of plantings that range from native shrubs to pretty annuals as well as fruit and vegetables. I am slowly taking out the invasive small trees and shrubs and replacing them with native plants each year. As with most gardens, it takes a while to get round to everything, so this is a multiyear project.

Since moving to Holly Hill, I joined the Potpourri Garden Club, and I am working on the GCSC archives. I am also involved in the town on several garden projects.


Karen Galloway  - West Sandhills District 

Gardening has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, even when I wasn’t actively involved.  My Grandmama, aunts and Mama always had a summer garden and canned vegetables for the winter.  They survived the Great Depression and learned gardening as a way of life.  There was no need for classes or soil samples. They simply knew the job. 

My gardening career got off to a rocky start though. It happened one summer when I was about 11 and picking green beans for supper.

 It seems a green-bean-colored garter snake liked that bean vine too. Eventually I recovered.

Now I do a more complicated type of gardening and as I’ve grown, so has my garden. My broccoli, cauliflower and Brussell’s sprouts plants weren’t available for previous generations of gardeners in the South.  Their choices were often “pass along” plants and seeds that were treasured indoors and outside. Everybody knew how to take a cutting of a houseplant or root a hydrangea with a brick.

As you see, gardening has been a constant my life even when I wasn’t consciously aware of what I was learning.  My husband and I have planted flowers and a vegetable garden every year since we married, never missed a season. It’s fun planning and planting. And nothing beats a summer home-grown-tomato sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise.

Today I actively “farm” in my backyard.  I have two winter gardens filled with collards, Savoy cabbages, Early Jersey Wakefield cabbages, Brussell’s sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower.  The mess of collards I cooked during the holidays were the best ones we’ve ever had. In full disclosure, all the winter vegetables are delicious, especially raw broccoli dipped in Ranch dressing.

Attending Flower Show school further enhanced my appreciation for gardening and floral design. The classroom information introduced the artistic piece of the gardening formula. Learning to use plant material in balance, contrast, dominance, proportion and scale allowed me to see the garden as a beautiful work of art. 

GardenFORLife has been something I’ve now consciously done for almost fifty years. It has kept me healthy and happy. I eagerly look forward each season to trying new color combinations and textures of flowers and varieties of vegetables, indoors and outside. Garden for life is what brings joy to my life. 


Gail Watkins Ford - East Low Country and East Sandhills Districts 

Gail was born in Charleston and educated at the University of South Carolina and Emory University.  She earned a doctorate in Health Education Administration and retired as a certified Family Nurse Practitioner.  She taught Nursing at USC in Columbia for thirty years and worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner in Sumter.  No matter how busy with family and work she always found time to tend her garden and is certified plant addict and garden book collector.  Gail and John love to travel and that has afforded her the opportunity to see many famous gardens around the world.

She has two gardens, one in Sumter and the other at Wolf Laurel, NC and enjoys being able to garden in different climates. In the Sumter (garden 27 years old) constantly battles chameleon plant, crocosmia, elephant ears and weeds.  The garden has everything from tricolored flowering peach, boxwood, roses, camellias, hydrangeas, iris and many perennials, sun and shade and a small garden pool.  

 The mountain garden is only three years old and she constantly battles deer, but enjoys growing peonies, lilac and other mountain plants.  She loves for people to visit her gardens and they never go home empty handed.  Her garden is certified as a Wildlife Habitat and as a Clemson Carolina Yard.  Gail is a Master Gardener.

She is an Honorary Member of the Crape Myrtle Garden Club in Columbia and is an active member of the Azalea Garden Club in Sumter and the Garden Club of Charleston.  My husband likes to say that my plants will all breathe a sigh of relief when I leave this world because they will never have to move again!  Happy Gardening!