Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JUST PEACHY; Thousands Drive Past This South Carolina Rural Area on Trips to the North Carolina Mountains. Those Who Stop to Visit Will Be Pleasantly Surprised

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JUST PEACHY; Thousands Drive Past This South Carolina Rural Area on Trips to the North Carolina Mountains. Those Who Stop to Visit Will Be Pleasantly Surprised

Article excerpt

Byline: JUDY WELLS

EDGEFIELD, S.C. - Thousands of First Coasters skirt this rural area on their way to and from the mountains of North Carolina, missing the charm of small towns, antebellum and Victorian homes and residents who take the time to make a visitor feel welcome.

They also miss the orchards, gobblers, genealogy, governors, gardens and goats around Edgefield.

Acres of peach trees flower in March and produce from May to September, when the irresistible aroma makes stops at roadside stands imperative. The Peach Museum in Johnston, self-proclaimed Peach Capital of the World, will show you all about it with photographs, a collection of old labels, implements of the industry and pertinent quotes, including this one from George du Maurier, 1834-96: "An apple is an excellent thing until you have tried a peach."

Up the road a bit, 120 wild turkeys roost on the 100-acre grounds of the Wild Turkey Center & Museum, the world's only such museum.

Benjamin Franklin thought that, with its wiles and red, white and blue face, the wild turkey should be the national bird. It isn't, but like the eagle that won the honor, wild turkeys almost died out. In 1900, there were barely 30,000 in the wild. Thanks in part to the National Wild Turkey Federation, there are now nearly 7 million in North America.

The museum, which had 13,000 visitors last year and doubled its space this year, is a lot more interesting than you might expect. Who knew turkeys were as revered by the Cherokee and other East Coast tribes as the buffalo was by Plains tribes? That the birds can run 25 mph and fly 55 mph for up to 1 mile? And is there anyone in North America who has not drawn a turkey by tracing outspread fingers for its tail feathers?

You can try tracing of another kind here, too. The Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society on the courthouse square is the largest in South Carolina, with members in 40 states and more than 2,000 surname files. Newspapers on microfilm go back to 1836, when Edgefield County was considerably larger than it is now. Beginning in 1871, sections of it were pinched off to form Aiken, Saluda, Greenwood and McCormick counties. The county has reared 10 of the state's governors, including that political powerhouse, the late Strom Thurmond.

HOW DO YOUR GARDENS GROW?

When gardeners reach Park Seed Co. just outside Greenwood, it's like pilgrims grasping the holy grail. The country's largest family-owned mail order horticultural company is fronted and flanked by experimental gardens, where new varieties are tried and old favorites are tested.

One day a year, Park horticulturists give tours of the gardens where plants are tracked from germination through burnout. Other than that June day during the South Carolina Festival of Flowers (next year it's Friday, June 23), you guide yourself.

Inside, cheerful staff give factory tours during working hours. They do so much mailing - 14,000 packages a day in peak season - that the building has its own ZIP code, 29647.

You'll learn that the 1,100 varieties of seeds like it cool and dry, but roses like to be stored with ice crystals in the roots. That the coconut is the largest seed, witchweed is the smallest - it looks like dust. The seeds of the more desirable petunia and begonia are so small you can put several on the period at the end of this sentence.

Horticulturists in the customer service department help with the 65,000 telephone calls, 25,000 e-mails and 35,000 orders a month.

And all those seeds that went into space in 1984 and 1997 and were planted by school children? Yep, they came from Park, as did the 3 million basil seeds that went up July 4. Grew just fine, too.

GOATS AND SOAPS

When the children get antsy, head to Emerald Farms, also in the Greenwood suburbs. …

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