Janina & Rob Cushman

For the Love of the Land

March 2024 IssueCushman 0324

by Edwina Hoyle
Photography by Lindsay Pettinicchi
Photography of Vineyards
Submitted by The Cushmans

Janina Cushman, a resident of Hilton Head Plantation, said she could never live in a house without a garden. However, her idea of “a garden” certainly surpasses what most homeowners can imagine. Janina and her husband, Rob, moved from Wexford Plantation to their home three years ago. Janina said they looked at 40 homes before they found their gem—a totally private, large lot with tidal estuaries and marsh views. Rob said, “It was a palette with nothing on it, no color, just pine straw.” So, Janina worked on a plan with the help of a landscape designer.

“I wanted some hardscaping because it gives character. It’s been great fun,” she smiled. Stone walkways lead through the garden with two-feet high raised beds, constructed with light brown, stone bricks. Janina, who loves color, added. “The beds are as flower-filled as I can get them.”

Meandering through the garden, one sees a shaded area filled with white flowers and crepe myrtles. In another area, Janina planted 49 deep-pink, drift roses, which brings the total number to more than 60 rose bushes.

There’s even a secret garden Janina calls her Zen garden, a place that offers her serenity. Tucked away, it’s graceful and soothing with benches, hibiscus, potted plants, and a fountain.

Rob explained the design transitions from hardscape to raised beds, to a “zero edge” into the marsh. Using plants and grasses along the border interfaces naturally with the tidal marsh to give a zero edge in which the garden blends seamlessly into the marsh grasses. “The bad storm we had in January had heavy winds, high tides, and dropped 5.25 inches of rain. The water flowed through the entire yard and flooded it with salt water. So, we’ll have to see how sea-tolerant our garden is,” he added.


Ten years ago, Janina became a master gardener through the Clemson Extension program, and last year, the Cushman’s garden was featured on the All-Saints Episcopal Church Garden Tour. Rob commented on how 750 people toured their garden, which is officially considered a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. Their yard is a South Carolina Wildlife Foundation Certified Wildlife Habitat. Not only are various flora required for this certification, but Rob also worked with Wild Birds Unlimited to ensure all the requirements were met, such as different types of bird boxes, feeders, and an insect breeding box.

As much as they have transformed their new space into a backyard paradise, they are not new to have a love of the land. Back in 1999, Rob and Janina decided to buy a second home in Europe. Janina hails from England, but Rob had lived in Italy for ten years. He talked her into looking in Tuscany, but they couldn’t find the type of property they dreamed of, so they looked in Umbria. Taken to a property considered a working farm, complete with a vineyard, Rob popped a grape in his mouth and fell in love. “It tasted a little like strawberries,” he said. Once they purchased the property and assumed the responsibilities of a vineyard, they worked long days from sun up to sun down to increase the number of grape vines, going from 70 vines to 400.

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“We were two uninformed people making decisions,” Rob chuckled. Janina decided to plant 75 olive trees as well. The couple learned that 400 grape vines equals 1,000 bottles of wine, and five tons of olives produces a ton of olive oil. “Within ten years, we had taken this vineyard to a boutique vineyard,” Rob said. “We did it all. To make really good wine starts in the vineyard. It took us three years to learn about pruning, fertilizing, and each month it was something different, like checking sugar levels, then harvesting.”

Their wine, Le Mandorelle Vineyards, won double gold medals in the largest wine competition in the Southeast, against competitors from all over the world!

“As well as the wine, we made olive oil and lots of it,” Rob said. The couple was hands-on in producing both.

Janina loved to feel the vines, the plants, the dirt. She has to know and understand each plant to fulfill its needs. The women in the village were shocked to learn that Janina wanted to prune the olive trees herself, telling her that only men did that. Rob and Janina picked olives during the day and made olive oil each night. They produced cold pressed extra virgin olive oil within 12 hours of picking the olives. “It was a wonderful experience, but in 2020, we decided to sell the farm and buy a small home in town. We became townies and loved our village.”

Since moving back to the United States, the couple has had no problem finding projects in which to get their hands dirty. Last year, Janina served as the chairperson for the Paint It Pink Garden for breast cancer awareness at Hilton Head Regional Hospital. Pots were painted pink, the Greenery donated Pentas, and the Hospital Auxiliary donated $1,000 to fix the irrigation. “We were happy to lead the charge,” she said.

Rob joked that he has now answered the call to become a PPB (piss poor beekeeper). He travels to the Allendale Penitentiary at least twice a month to work with inmates in the beekeeping program, which took two years to develop.

Janina and Rob are serious stewards of the land. When nature calls them, they respond beautifully and enjoy every minute.