It is hard to start a tribute to my dear friend Frances Parker, who passed away almost a year ago. I came to know Frances and her beloved husband, Milton, rather late. We got acquainted at several SGHS annual meetings, and I considered her a mentor and friend. We discovered that we both had careers in laboratory technology at the Medical University of South Carolina many years ago before embarking on careers centered around plants.
Frances was one of the most gifted propagators I have ever known, and I have known a few good ones, including my late husband, Jim Garner. She had a nursery for many years on Sycamore Street in Beaufort, where she bred many notable salvias including ‘Anthony Parker’ and ‘Christopher’, both named after grandsons. I never got to see Frances before she died due to Covid, so I wasn’t able to get the ‘Anthony Parker’ that she put aside for me. Jenks (Farmer) says he has it and will bring one to my new garden next time so I am hopeful. Frances shared many plants from her amazing garden with me over the years, so I feel very lucky for that. She and Milton were stewards to a very significant Federal-style house on East Street, but it was the garden that was the real star. She always joked that they laid out the garden before they ever moved into the house. Everyone including Penelope Hobhouse, Rosemary Verey, Martha Stewart, and countless Garden Conservancy tours made their way as a rite of passage. She lamented in her later years when she could not keep up the maintenance, but it always looked spectacular to me especially when all the citrus was in fruit.
Frances was a self-taught, internationally-respected plant propagator and garden designer. She was greatly influenced in her knowledge of gardens by her own Grandmother and Mother. In Beaufort, Frances designed and consulted on numerous gardens in The Old Point Neighborhood including The Castle and The Robert Smalls House. She also worked extensively on Spring and Brays Islands and was responsible for the design and caretaking of the gardens at Auldbrass Plantation in Yemassee, S.C., designed in 1939 by Frank Lloyd Wright. She had many protégées over the years, including the Head Gardener at Lambeth Palace. A few years ago, I organized a trip to England for Frances and Milton and Jim and myself, and we visited Lambeth and got a private tour of the garden from Alistair.
For many years Frances served as a consultant to both Southern Living and Southern Accents magazines. Frances was an active supporter of the Historic Beaufort Foundation, and Milton was a founding member. She also served on the Tree Board for Beaufort County and was an early supporter of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust.
Frances was an accomplished cook and hosted numerous dinner parties including many memorable holidays with everyone seated around her large dining room table. Some of my fondest memories were just sitting in her wonderful kitchen with windows overlooking that garden. There were always blossoms of something in small vases, and she always had my English Breakfast tea on hand. Like me, she loved British mysteries, so ETV was always on in the evenings after we sipped sherry. A highlight of every visit was seeing the downtown gardens she was working on. Like another friend, Patti McGee, Frances Parker was a beloved member of her community who will be greatly missed and really cannot be replaced.
[Frances Dawsey Parker died May 6, 2022, in Beaufort, South Carolina at the age of 80. A service and celebration of her life was held June 11, 2022, at the Parish Church of Saint Helena in Beaufort.]
Photo taken by Susan Hitchcock of Frances Parker visiting the gardens of Mottisfont, a National Trust Property in Hampshire, England, in 2009.