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Day 514: Azalea Abundance

Friday, May 17, 2013

"Give fools their gold and knaves their power,
Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall -
Who sows a field or trains a flower
or plants a tree, is more than all."
--John Greenleaf Whittier

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is just outside Charleston, along the Ashley River - in fact, it's directly across the river from the city. By road, it's perhaps twenty or thirty minutes.

The grounds open at 8 AM, and we scurried to get there at opening time. It had rained the night before, and it must've been a good soaking rain - everything was dripping, and in a few places there were puddles of some depth.

I know a photographer who says he prefers overcast days for outdoor shooting. He says the indirect light and the absence of harsh, contrasting shadows gives the pictures more quality. Mebbe so. I will admit I think the photos we took at Magnolia came out well, and perhaps in no small part due to the lack of bright sunlight.

Of course, to be fair, I'm not sure even the rankest amateur (um, here? in the back of the hall? that'd be me) could fail to get some good shots.

April at Magnolia is drenched in color. Trite, maybe, but not a cliché: the phrase was created for their gardens. I'm not much of a plant-person, but just a casual glance took in late daffodils, "wild" iris, wisteria, lingering camellias, fuchsia, snapdragons, blossoming fruit trees, plants I couldn't begin to name - and of course, an abundance of azaleas, with blazes of color in every hue.

I'll give you the briefest of backgrounds, most of which is taken from Magnolia's literature: Magnolia is the oldest plantation in this section, having been established in 1676 by the Drayton family. Still owned by the family, today it's the residence of the 15th generation.

The first house was burned in 1865, by Union troops. A few years after, the then-owner, Reverend John Grimke-Drayton, sold some of the land to raise enough funds to build a new house on the old foundation. When the house burned - accidentally, this time! - again in the late 1800s it was rebuilt to the style of the post-war house with additions to make it larger. Today, ten rooms of the house are open for public tours.

By 1870 Rev. Drayton began to open the gardens to the public. With some 500 acres, around 15 miles of walking paths, a nature center / zoo, a wildlife refuge and nature preserve, even a "swamp garden." Magnolia is a place you can spend days exploring.

In a word, it's magnificent.

Perhaps because the forecast still called for showers and because of the early hour we had the place to ourselves. There were three men - professional photographers - working together who went off in a direction different from ours, and in fact I didn't see them on the grounds again. Himself and I split up then spent the better part of three hours wandering around - you can imagine how many pictures we took!

There are water features - lakes, ponds, fountains, plus of course the river itself - and some six or seven bridges, the oldest built in 1840. The views are picturesque in every direction, and because there were no other tourists, our shots are un-peopled.


There is a large section devoted solely to camellias. Many had gone by, but a fair number were still in bloom. A few of the hybrids were developed at Magnolia. I only found labels on a half-dozen or so, so I'm not sure of the names, but the flowers were beautiful:

Many of the animals at Magnolia arrive via "animal rescue." Gracie, a white tail deer, was a fawn when she was hit by a car. She's incredibly tame. Whenever a visitor approaches, she wanders over to greet them:

Her favorite area is beside the enclosure gate.

One of the keepers said it was nearly feeding time, which no doubt explains why Gracie thought the strings on my jacket would make for good eating - she tried to catch hold and gnaw on them.

Both wild and domestic animals are housed here. This tom turkey is certainly a wild one:

He had his tail fanned out most of the time, at least when I saw him. The pinks and blues on his head and neck are pretty colors, but personally, between the wen and wattle and the vulture-like featherless head, I think turkeys are not very attractive.

The rooster and the peacock had a parley:

While I checked out the zoo, Himself had gone to the conservatory. He got wonderful pictures of some of the orchids:

From Magnolia it was about two hours to our next stop, Kensington Mansion:

The address is Eastover, South Carolina, but it's actually in the middle of fields and farm country. It's about forty miles south-east of Columbia.

It's not a heavily-trafficked site, and it has very limited visitation hours. The site manager doubles as the tour guide; not only did he know the house and its history down to the last detail, but he was personable and obviously had great affection for the mansion.

Best of all, we were lucky enough to be the only people on his last tour of the day, and he generously spent much more time with us than the schedule normally allows.

As is the general rule, no photography was allowed inside, and while I have a few copied pictures, I think I've taken more than my fair share of space here today. Ummm... all right. Just two, to give you an idea of what the house deteriorated to, and how it looks today:

If you'd like to know more about the house and how it was saved from destruction, you can read a little about it on their website:


After leaving Kensington, we had about a three-hour drive ahead of us to Asheville, North Carolina, where we had reservations for the night. Tomorrow: we're going to a spectacular estate:

Have a good'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!

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  • PHOENIX1949
    emoticon emoticon
    2848 days ago
    wow ...so beautiful!
    2849 days ago
  • no profile photo CD9922996
    Those beautiful old houses are worth preserving; the people who long to do such work are really special. Thank you for another magnificent stroll through some awe-inspiring places!
    2849 days ago
    Oh, it makes me long to be in another era - strolling along those paths and rows, reaaly beatuiful!
    2849 days ago
  • CAALAN23
    The flowers are truly beautiful but oh my goodness those trees are magnificent! Thanks so much for sharing!
    2849 days ago
    Thank you for these gorgeous "home and garden" photos. You are really doing the South proud, showing us at our best. I think sometimes we forget how beautiful things can be around here, until we see it through the lens of a camera. I've never really been sure why that is, but you've given me a new appreciation for my home. The azaleas and dogwoods, camelias and wisteria, have faded away for the most part, so your pictures are a welcome reminder.

    On to Biltmore! emoticon
    2849 days ago
  • SROUS1340
    Oh my, those photos are beautiful! I used to go to North Carolina in early May and the dogwoods, camillas and azealas were all in bloom, it's a site to see. I'm jeleous of your tour. I love house tours and it sounds like you are seeing some great ones. Enjoy!
    2849 days ago
  • no profile photo CD11085628
    Absolutely breathtaking!
    I visited Biltmore last summer and enjoyed eating lunch in the cafe in the old stable.
    2849 days ago
  • PROT358
    Oh my! Those nature pictures might rival Monet's famous garden. Gorgeous!
    2849 days ago
    Both natural AND architectural beauty... what a day this one was!
    2850 days ago
    What magnificence! Thank you so much for these beautiful blogs which are, as always, wonderfully written too.
    2850 days ago
    emoticon Wow, Wow, and WOW!!! I could almost SMELL those Flowers!! It must have been INCREDIBLE to experience a Garden like that!! Thanks for sharing.
    emoticon I am so Happy that many of the Mansions have been Saved and Restored, we would be much poorer without having that History to look back on. The Homes were BEAUTIFUL, and I will be reading more about them on the Link you gave.
    2850 days ago
    Loved all the pictures and your blog. You will love the Biltmore house. I lived outside of Asheville for many years.I have been there twice and it is awesome. Amazing how many advanced things it had. Everything about house and grounds are just fabulous.
    2850 days ago
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