If you are a plants person and love gardens, then Magnolia Plantation & Gardens needs to be on your garden bucket list. Not only is this place America’s last large-scale romantic-style garden but it is also America’s oldest public garden, opening its doors in 1872 to visitors.
Take a stroll with me through these beautiful grounds.
Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family along the Ashley River, this plantation has witnessed America’s history from the beginning. Magnolia Plantation functioned as a working plantation growing rice as its primary cash crop until Reverend John Grimké Drayton inherited it in 1836. He turned this working plantation into one of the most beautiful public gardens in America. Designed with Romantic-style in mind, meaning the garden cooperates with nature as opposed to a landscaped garden, as was popular in Europe at the time. Unfortunately, this style garden never really caught on in America, which is another reason this property is so unique.
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Drayton had a vision after seeing the efforts of landscape architects William Kent and Lancelot “Capability” Brown and started cultivating the gardens in the 1840s. If you travel in the Spring, you will notice the multitude of azaleas on the property and throughout the south. A favorite plant in this region of America was introduced by Drayton when he planted them at Magnolia Plantation. In addition to azaleas, you will find an abundance of camellias.
Since the plantation is located along the Ashley River, a good portion of the property has swamplands and waterways running through it. As you stroll along the winding paths of the gardens, admire the bridges and the different forms of architecture and how they tie in with the garden. The most famous is the White Long Bridge. (You’ll know it when you see it.)
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Magnolia Plantation boasts not only its famous gardens but also the Audubon Swamp Gardens. Named for John James Audubon, the famed writer and illustrator of Birds of America, and a close family friend to the Drayton family. Audubon’s final two works were painted at Magnolia Plantation. The Swamp Gardens boast egrets, herons, and other waterfowl, as well as a few alligators if you are lucky enough to spot them. This section of the property gives you a taste of what it would have looked like when our forefathers landed in this part of the country.
In addition to the two gardens, the Plantation also offers tours of the House and a Zoo on the property. There is a lot to do here, so be sure to give yourself ample time to see it all.