South Carolina: Beautiful gardens


South Carolina’s first gardens were planted by plantation owners during colonial times. Gardens were popular pastimes for English settlers, and the warm climate allowed them to develop gardens that could be enjoyed all year long. Today you can go on garden tours in any season and see the beauty they created.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens: Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, Magnolia Plantation represents the oldest public gardens in America, first opening its doors to visitors in 1870. Three centuries in the making, the 500-acre Ashley River estate is home to America’s last large-scale romantic garden and features one of the finest camellia collections in the world.
Thomas Drayton and his wife Ann established the first gardens on the property when, in 1679, they moved to the English colony of Charles Towne, which is now Charleston. Approximately 150 years later, another Drayton turned the gardens into a gift of love to his wife. In addition to the romantic gardens, Magnolia Plantation also features a Reconstruction-era home, horticultural maze, antebellum slave cabins, a petting zoo, and a blackwater cypress and tupelo swamp, once a reservoir for rice fields. 

Magnolia Plantation

Middleton Place: Charleston also is home to Middleton Place, one of the oldest plantations in America. The 110-acre National Historic Landmark is an 18th-century rice plantation overlooking the Ashley River. Middleton Place was the home of Henry Middleton, President of the First Continental Congress, and his son, Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The gardens were first planted in 1741 by Henry Middleton and subsequently restored by Middleton descendants. The gardens reflect the elegant symmetry of 17th-century European design. These gardens contain the oldest camellias in the new world, planted in 1786 by French botanist Andre Michaux. The Middleton Oak on the property is estimated to be almost 1,000 years old. Guided tours of the House Museum interpret the Middletons’ vital role in American history. In the plantation stableyards, craftspeople, including a blacksmith, potter, carpenter and weaver, recreate the activities of a self-sustaining Lowcountry plantation.

Middleton Place

Cypress Gardens:
This 175-acre swamp/garden northwest of Charleston offers a walk-through butterfly house, beautiful plants, birds and more. The Swamparium features fish, reptiles and amphibians native to the swamp and nearby waterways. The new Heritage Museum tells the history of this former rice plantation through text and displays of slave artifacts found there. The swamp/garden is easily accessible with 6.4 kilometres of walking paths and/or via the gardens’ famous flat-bottom boats. Once part of Dean Hall Plantation, the gardens are especially lovely in spring when the azaleas, dogwoods, wisteria, and daffodils are in bloom. The swamp was prominently featured in 2000 in the motion picture “The Patriot,” starring Mel Gibson.

Boone Hall Plantation: Boone Hall is one of the oldest working, living plantations in the United States, established in 1681 by Maj. John Boone. The plantation’s famous avenue of oaks, a 1.2-kilometre drive lined with massive Spanish moss–draped live oaks, dates back to 1743. Bordering the avenue of oaks are nine original slave cabins, which housed the plantation’s house servants and skilled craftsmen. This cluster of cabins, known as Slave Street, is one of the Southeast’s few remaining intact slave streets and the only brick slave street in the United States. Boone Hall and its grounds were prominently featured in John Jakes’ epic TV miniseries about the Civil War “North & South” and Alex Haley’s “Queen,” among others. Crops have been continuously grown and produced here for more than 320 years. Peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, and pumpkins as well as many other fruits and vegetables are still grown, with U-Pick (pick-your-own fruits and vegetables) fields open when in season. The main modern market on S.C. Highway 17 is now open for business.

S.C. Botanical Garden at Clemson: The South Carolina Botanical Garden represents 295 acres of diverse natural landscapes, display gardens, streams, and nature trails. Along with a nationally recognized nature-based sculpture collection and the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, the SCBG is a premier site for experiencing nature and culture. The South Carolina Botanical Garden is home to an official American Hosta Society Display Garden, a 70-acre arboretum, a butterfly garden, wildflower meadow, and fern and bog gardens. The garden also is home to more than 400 varieties of camellias, as well as an extensive collection of hollies, hydrangeas, magnolias, and native plants.

Brookgreen GardensBrookgreen Gardens: Set on 300 acres on the South Carolina coast, Brookgreen Gardens is a beautiful sculpture garden with a wildlife sanctuary, creek excursions, back road tours, and seasonal events. Consisting of four former rice plantations, Brookgreen was the first public sculpture garden built in the United States. The garden was opened to the public in 1931 by its founders Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Mrs. Huntington’s works are featured along with those of other prominent American sculptors. More than 1,200 sculptures by 350 artists are featured in 10 separate garden “rooms” with accent pools and fountains. Seasonal offerings include a spring garden fair, two changing indoor  exhibits, evening dining, and other programmes in the summer. The Harvest Home Weekend festival in the autumn, and Night of a Thousand Candles during the holiday season are also popular offerings. Visit the E. Craig Wall Jr. Lowcountry Centre, and enjoy one of the daily programmes, tours, and excursions.

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden: Riverbanks in Columbia is home to more than 2,000 magnificent and fascinating animals and to one of the most beautiful and inspiring botanical gardens in the United States. The lush 170-acre site features dynamic natural habitat exhibits, scenic river views, spectacular valley overlooks, and significant historic landmarks.

Swan Lake Iris Gardens: The Swan Lake Iris Gardens in Sumter are home to some of the United States’ most intensive planting efforts dedicated to the Japanese iris, which blooms yearly from mid to late May through the beginning of June. The garden also boasts many other floral attractions, including colourful camellias, azaleas, day lilies, and Japanese magnolias. A Braille Trail enables the sight-impaired to enjoy the scents and sensations of the gardens, and visitors can enjoy the sights and aromas of the Chocolate and Butterfly Gardens. The adjoining Swan Lake is the only public park in the U.S. to feature all eight swan species.

Greenwood: Greenwood, which lies in the heart of the Old 96 tourism district, is the headquarters of the Park Seed Company. The company is one of the oldest and largest mail-order seed companies in the United States. You also can visit its nine-acre trial gardens.

For more information about South Carolina, contact the South Carolina Tourism Office. Tel.: (803)734-1700 E-mail: or you can visit us on the Internet at


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