Tag Archives: South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina: A Visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Gaslights in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston , South Carolina is what you call a southern city. The folks like grits for breakfast; they like shrimp and grits for dinner.

They’re also fond of fried chicken, cornbread, peach cider and pralines. An aura of the Antebellum Old South lingers: stately mansions, cobblestones streets, and the smell of jasmine. These thoughts set my mind a-swirling. I envision hoop skirts, confederate soldiers, debutante balls and Tara.

I decide to visit a real plantation based on a travel brochure which claims, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is one of the top 25 most visited historic houses in America.”If true, this home joins a pretty impressive list: the Biltmore Estate, Mount Vernon, the Betsy Ross House, and Graceland.  In addition, the brochure boasts, “Magnolia maintains the oldest major public garden in America, and is also America’s oldest man-made attraction, having been open to the public since the late 1860s.”  Bold statements indeed; I deem this a must-see. 

The historic site lies off Ashley River Road, just a 20-30 minute drive from downtown. I turn onto a long single lane, stop to pay admission (still in my car) and follow a circuitous path through lanes of tall oaks and Loblolly pines.

Manor House
Magnolia Plantation Manor House

The Manor, as it is called, was originally constructed in 1775 and is the third house in the same the location. Fire destroyed the first two, the second ignited by Union soldiers during the Civil War.

First I take the house tour, which begins on the immense wrap-around porch.  Once again my mind wanders: how relaxing it must be to sit here at sunset and rock back and forth. Then, I come to my senses. South Carolina summers swelter with heat, humidity and mosquitoes; consequently I disband all sentimental thoughts.

The Manor, as it is called, was originally constructed in 1775 and is the third house in the same location.  Fire destroyed the first two, the second ignited by Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Magnolia Plantation Gardens
Couple strolls by the river
A couple stroll along the banks of the Ashley River

The owners lost most of their wealth in the war, as did many southerners, so they moved a brick cabin to the original site and added on.  My guide, Wanda, explains all this and the family history and furnishings- a mix of early-American antiques, museum-quality quilts and various works of art.

She say,”Magnolia is one of very few estates still owned by the family that built it.” The current, an 11th generation Drayton, lives on the grounds.  I exit into the rear garden, which turns out to be the front since it faces the river.  Fuchsia azaleas, scarlet camellias and lilacs are in bloom, while delicate branches of dogwood trees blossom pink and white.  The scene dances with spring color yet genteel grace.

Live oaks, doused with Spanish moss, guard the riverbank like sentries, except they appear asleep at their post.  The mood is tranquil.  Couples stroll along the romantic walkway while other folks laze on benches.  My attitude has turned into one of, frankly, not giving a damn.  The afternoon beams with radiance, gone is the wind and i”ll listen to the Song of the South.

In addition to the Manor and swamp garden (detailed in an earlier blog) Magnolia Plantation offers “slavery to freedom tours,” boat rides, a nature tram, and miles of walking and biking paths.  Why you can even bring your dog or a canoe, and lest I forget, there’s a petting zoo, gift shop and cafeteria. Sounds rather tacky, but I confess, pretty well concealed into the landscape. www.magnoliaplantation.com

Biting into a Charleston Chew

While visiting historic Charleston, South Carolina, I picked up a Charleston Chew, a candy bar I assumed had a connection to the city.

Wrong. The treat was launched by the Fox-Cross Candy Company in 1922, during the popular dance craze – the Charleston. I imagine the makers realized the bars force one’s jaw to do a little jig.

Nabisco purchased rights in 1980 and Tootsie added the Chew to their line in 1993. Five years later, they created Charleston Mini Chews, bite-size servings resembling Milk Duds.

Continue reading Biting into a Charleston Chew

Doing the Swamp Thing: Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, So Carolina

Swamp Garden, Magnolia Plantation

As a mom and grandmom, I  know infants and toddlers are challenging, yet fun. Sure, wails and meltdowns prove stressful, but big hugs solve many a tear. And, little children can be so adorable.

Move from tots to teens and the headaches multiply. My college hunting trip with Laura, our high-school aged daughter, proved downright dismal. The admission’s staff overwhelmed us with talk of SAT and ACT scores, GPA’s, essay requirements and application procedures.

Campus tours produced comments such as, “dorm rooms are too small; What? No cars for freshmen; campus is too big, too small, too rural, etc.”  Fairy godmother wand needed.

Frustrated, I decided to take a break from the pressure and explore a heritage site.  I chose a historic plantation that offered something I’d never seen before–a swamp garden.

To stay on my daughter’s and husband’s good side, I invited them to accompany me, but both declined.  So I was off on a solo escape; even better.

I drove about 20-30 minutes out of Charleston to Ashley River Road, stopping at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.  I took the 30-minute house tour with a tour guide named Wanda.  She was knowledgeable and entertaining, quickly covering the 300-year history of the home and Drayton family.

I exited the back door, really the front door as it faces the Ashley River, and walked down a path to the landing through flowering azalea’s and lilac blooms. Live oaks hang their heavy branches over the river’s edge creating a genteel feel of the Old South (more on this beautiful place in a future blog.)

Afterward, I moved my car to the entrance of the 60- acre Audubon Swamp Garden, where the lot was near empty. Perfect, I thought, no crowds. I crossed onto a wooden boardwalk, which muffled the sound of my footsteps as I traversed over green-slimy water.  Later, I learned this floating botanic was duck weed.

To my surprise, I came upon a sign announcing, “Cell Phone Tour:  Dial 843 303-9665.” Now I’ve taken many audio tours, but never one via my cell phone. And…of all places, in an eerie swamp? I dialed up.

A woman with a distinct southern drawl welcomed me and began speaking about the wildlife. I must admit the experience seemed like listening to an in-person guide, but frankly, a little too woo-woo for the marsh. Wouldn’t a few signs have provided the same information?  Wasn’t this encouraging phone interruptions or obnoxious ringtones like Dixie or the American Idol theme song?

Fortunately,  no distracting telephones annoyed me, in fact, I was seduced by the calmness and tranquility of bird calls. Back and forth I heard twitters and tweets- the real kind from the ornithological species. I heard frogs croaking and crickets; but Mother Nature held her breath, not a ripple on the water or rustle of leaves.

Since it was after five p.m., I hurried along, passing a dawdling couple: the woman checking her bird book, the husband spotting a Nature Conservancy ball-cap. “Blue Herons,” he said, which I rather smugly knew, since I live in Florida.

An alligator suns himself in the Swamp Garden

Yes,” I replied, “splendid swamp.”

Egret flying
A Snowy Egret in the sanctuary of the Swamp Garden

An alligator sunned himself, perched on a man-made ramp in the middle of the blackwater. He resembled a monster from the deep wearing a pea green coat of duckweed. Across the way, Snowy Egrets nested in gum trees, amidst tangled vines. This spot is paradise for photographers and I happened to catch a few decent shots myself. As it was getting late, I meandered back, but allowed myself time to stop and smell a few camellias, enjoy the water lilies and let my imagination run. “The Swamp Thing,” starring Louis Jourdan and Adrienne Barbeau, was filmed here. But, I preferred to think of John J. Audubon, who came to paint, a friend of the owner, Reverend Drayton. I’d noticed some of his original art in the mansion.

I was happy with my decision to visit. This preserved habitat is a jewel of South Carolina, a magical wildlife sanctuary and an exotic slice of lowcountry. I surrendered to the swamp and it revived my spirit, freed my frustrations and let me return to teen tensions in a better mood.