Friday, May 31, 2013

A Wild and Peaceful Garden

Tower of the Unitarian Church of Charleston
Charleston's historic Unitarian Church
Almost exactly twenty-six years ago I moved to the Lowcountry and embarked on a career in accounting. The first firm I worked for had its offices on King Street in Charleston. An adjacent path ran from King to the cemetery of the Unitarian Church located on Archdale Street. When things got stressful, as they do in the deadline-driven world of accounting, I sometimes headed outside to walk. That's how I first discovered this distinctive churchyard garden. 

Blue plumbago and pale pink roses
Blue plumbago and pink roses

What I love about the Garden of Remembrance is its riotous vegetation. How can I feel guilty about the untidiness of my own garden when here I see the dazzling communion of weeds and cultivated plants?

Lilies mingle with weeds

In 1989 Hurricane Hugo overwhelmed Charleston. Its winds removed the roof from one of the two buildings that housed the accounting firm. The roofer got to work quickly, but not until after photographs were taken to document the extent of damage. I remember seeing the pictures during those first terrible days when the whole world seemed to have turned upside down, a time when armed members of the National Guard roamed the streets and a nearby restaurant cooked chicken outside on a grill because electricity hadn't yet been restored. How ludicrous it all seemed. Those photographs captured an unusual view: in the foreground, file cabinets stood in the roofless attic; in the background, blue sky and the tower of the Unitarian Church dominated.

Garden of Remembrance
Garden of Remembrance

Most often when I think of this church, I think of its cemetery garden. I think of the gift of serenity -- of being allowed a chance to calm down before returning to a less-than-peaceful world. 
Red canna
Canna lily

For more information about the Garden of Remembrance, visit the  Unitarian Church of Charleston's website:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

National Public Gardens Day at Magnolia Plantation

Magnolia blossom at Magnolia Plantation

Last Friday, May the 10th, Magnolia Plantation participated in National Public Gardens Day, offering free admission to visitors who printed out a coupon available on-line. I've never seen such a throng of people in Magnolia's gardens, but then I've never before visited during a major event. In times past when I've been there, it's been during the colder months when more camellias are in bloom.

Magnolia Plantation, located on the Ashley River in Charleston, South Carolina, is one of America's oldest gardens. It's reported to be the first home to azaleas in this country. The plantation was established in 1679. During the first half of the nineteenth century, John Grimk√© Drayton inherited the property and expanded its gardens, enhancing the native landscape.
Lord Ferndale deep red ancient camellia japonica
The deep red flower of a Lord Ferndale ancient camellia japonica

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens includes a small formal garden, a biblical garden, a camellia garden, an oak avenue, a wildlife observation tower, a horticultural maze, and a petting zoo. By paying additional fees, visitors can tour the house, take a boat ride, and visit the Audubon Swamp Garden.

Red Bridge at Magnolia Plantation
The Red Bridge

What I like best about Magnolia Plantation is the scenic beauty of bridges over small lakes inhabited by native alligators. I enjoy hearing peacocks call and I love seeing the colors, forms, and textures of camellias and azaleas and a variety of other flowering plants.

Irises and Spanish moss
Irises and Spanish moss
Azalea at Magnolia Plantation
Azalea blossoms reach toward the sky

Not long after my arrival at Magnolia Plantation on Friday, I located a secluded gazebo in the Romantic Garden. Seated on a bench inside it, sheltered from the hot sun, I gazed out at patches of shasta daisies, their white faces stretching skyward. A few azaleas continued to bloom and one, within reach, had huge blossoms, colored a deep pink. A Japanese maple stood next to the gazebo and a magnolia behind it. Along the path in front of the structure, Spanish moss dangled from branches. Nearby, a pair of cardinals tweeted from a dogwood tree. 

One of the bridges at Magnolia Plantation
One of several bridges

After enjoying the view from the gazebo, I strolled through the gardens and wandered down the path between the historic rice fields and the Ashley River, remembering the time, well over twenty years ago, when I pushed my niece's stroller down these same paths. 

Was that before or after Hurricane Hugo devastated the area? Probably before. But I recall returning after and how thinned out this and other area gardens appeared during the months and first years that followed the storm. 

Now the growth is lush again. I'm thankful for that and for the offer of free admission that provided the incentive to travel once again to a place I visit far too seldom.

A trio of calla lilies
A trio of calla lilies
Garden visitors
Visitors stroll through the gardens
Gazebo in the Romantic Garden

For more information about the gardens at Magnolia Plantation, visit:

Magnolia Plantation