It’s a mild day on Isle of Palms and landscapers have come to work on the backyard of Casa Flamingo. The building, which rents to vacationers most weeks, is pretty easy to spot. It’s the one painted a shade of strawberry lemonade. It’s the one whose terrace is crowded with flamingo statues the size of courthouse lions. Casa Flamingo doesn’t try to hide its kitsch. In fact, the only discreet thing about the place might be the artificial lawn that’s being installed out back.
The owner of Casa Flamingo hired Palmetto Moon Synthetic Turf to come and install fake grass on her land. The old lawn drew too much attention to itself, and not in a flattering way. As it approached tree roots, the lawn would quickly grade from grass to dirt. Its clippings would fall into the pool and clog the filter. Wherever guests parked, it would turn jaundiced and never heal. Fertilizing it didn’t work. Resodding it didn’t work. And a dedicated gardener cost too much to retain. What Casa Flamingo needed was a permanent fix. And that’s what Palmetto Moon provides.
Marty Huggins, owner of Palmetto Moon, promises that the new lawn will require no upkeep other than blowing it occasionally with a leaf blower. There’ll be no need to mow it, weed it, water it or fertilize it. What’s more, it’ll look so authentic that most guests could come and go without ever noticing the grass is man-made.
And sure enough, when I arrive at Casa Flamingo I find a lawn that looks and feels like the real thing. I stoop down and run my fingers through the turf. It has the velvety bristle of a lawn in late summer. I part the blades and see ringlets of thatch packed over the earth. When I pull away, the blades rise and stiffen. Without thinking, I try to pluck a blade to study it more closely, but it’s fastened to the ground and refuses to rip. For a moment I had forgotten the grass isn’t real.
Huggins and his crew have been working at Casa Flamingo all week—they’ve already leveled the site and laid a base of granite screening. Today, they’re piecing the rolls of turf together. I watch as a worker kneels close to the ground and cuts away a strip of turf with a utility knife. He flattens the turf so its edge touches the neighboring roll. Their seams must be uneven, because he lifts the turf again and shaves off another sliver.
Laying turf involves a lot of detail work like this—hundreds of fine adjustments. It’s a type of work that would drive most people crazy. But not Marty Huggins.
“I’m just a hands-on kind of person,” he says.
Huggins started Palmetto Moon Synthetic Turf in Charleston a decade ago, and he has already completed more than 200 installations for homes and businesses across the state. He built the bocce ball court at the Cigar Factory. He helped a doggy day care in Florence find turf that could withstand the high volume of pawing going on there. He did the putting greens at Moree’s Cheraw Country Club, and he installed a new lawn at 73 Rutledge, a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A week from now, he’ll travel to a children’s health clinic and fit the campus with two whole acres of turf at once. Two acres—that’s enough grass to cover the Astrodome twice.
It feels like the more work Huggins does, the busier he gets. Half of his new contracts come to him as referrals—the neighbors of his other customers. Funny how that works. Though the Palmetto Moon crew hasn’t even finished Casa Flamingo yet, it’s already the best-looking lawn on the block. That neighbors will want an artificial lawn of their own seems to be perfectly natural.
Jeramy Baker is a freelance writer from Charleston. Read more at jeramybaker.com.