An Insider’s Guide to Discovering Charleston.
IN FULL BLOOM
By Laura Jenkins
Charleston’s plantations offer a vivid and intimate look into the city’s nuanced Southern heritage. Stop in and give yourself the gift of leisurely strolling through carefully curated corridors of time.
SHOWCASE OF COLOR
Recently, Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens, a popular Charleston attraction and one of the country’s oldest working farms, experienced an absolute showcase of color the likes of which hasn’t been witnessed in recent memory. Master Gardener Catherine Rasor and her staff have received accolades for the spectacular visual display, which according to Rasor, should be the same into the foreseeable future. For those interested in seeing the astounding array of flowers, the gardens are in full bloom starting in April and through June, but can be enjoyed throughout the summer and well into fall.
The 738-acre property dates back to 1681 and features a Georgian-designed mansion built in 1936, several cabins that belonged to former slaves and were occupied by sharecroppers well into the 20th century, flower gardens, a butterfly pavilion, the famed Avenue of Oaks — planted by Major John Boone’s son — and a farm that’s been continuously growing and producing crops for more than 300 years.
It also offers a number of educational programs, including exhibitions that educate the public on local black history and the lives of the enslaved people who worked the land and a live presentation that explores Gullah culture. If you happen to be visiting during a harvest season, you can pick your own strawberries, tomatoes, peaches or a number of other options. But if you want to enjoy the fruits of the land without having to pick it yourself, swing by Boone Hall Farms Market, where you can pick up a salad, sandwich or prepared meal, and also get a few items for the road. Signature products include homemade jellies and jams, dressings and marinades.
Another favorite destination is Middleton Place in Summerville. A National Historic Landmark with the oldest landscaped gardens in the U.S., Middleton Place boasts 65 acres that were first planted in 1741. It’s the birthplace of Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Amazingly, the Middleton family has maintained ownership of the property for 320 years. Thanks to an extensive variety of flowering plants — including centuries-old camellias, azaleas, magnolias, crepe myrtles and roses — the property is in bloom every day of the year. And there’s a 900-year-old oak that has born witness to much of the region’s history.Visitors can take relaxing tours aboard a carriage, but those who prefer to explore on their own are free to take self-guided walks. Be sure to stop by Eliza’s House to get a glimpse of the daily life of the enslaved people who lived and worked on the property. Based on a book by the same name, Beyond the Fields: Slavery at Middleton Place is a documentary that was released in 2017 and serves as an excellent complement to the tour.
Just northwest of Charleston, up the Ashley River, you can find one of the most picturesque and celebrated properties in the country: Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. Though the plantation dates back to 1676, the famed gardens were developed in the 1800s, when they were reworked in an English style by Reverend John Grimke-Drayton, who — according to family legend — took on the outdoor project in order to lure his bride south from Philadelphia.