The Best Gardens to Visit in Charleston, South Carolina

Gaze over azalea blossoms at Mill Pond on a former plantation
Gaze over azalea blossoms at Mill Pond on a former plantation | © Russell Kord / Alamy Stock Photo
Frank Lopez

Writer

The gardens of Charleston say so much about this wonderful city – characterized by the rich ecoclimate, they are typical of South Carolina. Wild gardens or plantation grounds, here are some of our favorites.


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Calhoun Mansion Gardens

The Calhoun Mansion, from 1876, is a popular destination for those wishing to peer into the exotic and eclectic world of the old colonial past. Its gardens are free. Extremely formal and manicured, what they lack in size they make up for in design: all boxy hedges, armless statues and swooping fronds. The centerpiece is a charming fountain that gives life to it all.

The Audubon Swamp Garden is found on the Magnolia Plantation, which in itself has a collection of the oldest and most visited gardens in the region. This 60-acre (24-hectare) reserve may not be the prettiest on this list, but it contains spectacular wildlife. Alligators, herons, turtles and otters are all known to romp around here. Horror fans will make a pilgrimage to see where Wes Craven shot his movie Swamp Thing (1982).

Angel Oak Park

The reason to come to the park is to see Angel Oak, a live oak that attracts many visitors for its utter grandiosity. Believed to be between 500 and 1,500 years old, it is 66.5ft (20m) tall and its longest branch is about 187ft (57m) long. One of the oldest living things around, it has survived hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Being close to this tree gives you a sense of awe and brings you closer to nature and an energy derived from its life force, which you have to feel to believe.

Middleton Place

This National Historic Landmark is 65 acres (26 acres) of impressive, sweeping landscaped gardens. If you go weak for the grand symmetrical European designs of the 17th century, this garden is for you. Immaculately maintained and clean, it has the sculptured and intricate order in nature that feels peace. Swans gracefully swim around the ponds between the rushes and the walking paths will lead you into many beautiful clearings.

Charleston Tea Garden

On the wonderfully unspoiled Wadmalaw Island, just a few miles south of Charleston, you can visit North America’s only tea plantation. With perfect levels of humidity and sandy soil, there are 127 acres (57 hectares) of black and green tea growing which is normally associated with Asia or South America. Take a trolley ride through the tea fields on what is a unique day out.

Philip Simmons Memorial Garden

Master blacksmith, Philip Simmons, who lived from 1912 to 2009, has his own gardens dedicated to him for his contribution to ironwork in Charleston. His mentor was an ex-slave who eventually left Simmons his home, now a museum on Blake Street. At St John’s Reformed Episcopal church, on 91 Anson street, a Heart Gate entrance designed by Simmons himself leads to his memorial gardens. This is a place of calm and reflection in honor of a great artisan with tremendous humility.

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