Being a radical Gone With the Wind fan since reading Margaret Mitchell’s novel in grade eight, I was thrilled to finally visit Charleston, South Carolina, aka the hometown of GWTW’s bad boy: Rhett Butler.
The city’s gentle southern charm, rich history and masses of antebellum homes resurrected my teenage yearnings of morphing my cool northern self into a southern belle complete with a hoop skirt and a crowd of gentlemen beaus. Alas, I didn’t get to wear a hoop skirt on this girlfriend getaway trip and my one and only beau stayed home but I did visit one of the most beautiful antebellum homes and plantations in the South, located just on the outskirts of Charleston.
As I watched the sunlight dancing on the Ashley river and casting a golden glow on the opulent gardens of Middleton Place, I wished I could have spent the entire afternoon sitting by the river contemplating the grand adventures of the Middleton clan, and the not so grand life of slaves working the rice fields in the ‘good old days’ of the South. Unfortunately I had only a few hours, so I was only able to tour the gardens on my recent visit to Middleton Place. If you plan to travel to this lush, opulent plantation be sure to leave yourself a full day to explore the enormous 110 acre property or better yet book a stay at the Inn at Middleton Place, and tour the property properly over a couple of days.
Here’s a glimpse of a few of the many photos I took while at Middleton Place, just enough to give you a taste of what to expect on a visit to one of Southern Carolina’s most famous Southern Plantations.
Light-beams and shadows play tag around the Spanish moss drooping down from massively ancient oak trees. Middleton Place is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States, and in its day this grand plantation housed four generations of Middleton’s. The Middleton family is still involved with the estate and continues to preserve the 18th century plantation that has seen its share of troubles through the American Revolution, Civil War and natural disasters.
The only building left of the original plantation house is the South Flanker, now called the House Museum, this part of the estate was built in 1755 as gentlemen’s guest quarters. The plantation lands and the house had been included in Mary William’s dowry when she married Henry Middleton in 1741. Henry commissioned the design for the opulent gardens and added the unattached wings, or flankers, to the existing house at Middleton Place.
Middleton Place has been declared a National Historic Landmark and the Garden Club of America has designated the gardens as America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens, as well as the “Most interesting and important garden in America.”
We’re keeping a close eye out for mummy alligator and her baby during our visit to Middleton Place.
Top Attractions at Middleton Place
Garden Overview Tour
A trained garden interpreter leads a ½ hour discussion of the garden design, history and horticulture of the Middleton Place Gardens. Offered daily on the hour from 10 am – 3 pm (During July & August 10 am, 11 am and 12 pm).
African American Focus Tours
Explore the difficult history of African American slaves and freedmen at Middleton Place. Guides discuss domestic life at Eliza’s House (a freedmen’s dwelling), labor at the Rice Mill and Spring House, and religion and spirituality at the Plantation Chapel and slave cemetery. Tours are held everyday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. & 3 p.m.
The Museum Shop and the Garden Market and Nursery
Be sure to visit the Garden Market. I had a hard time resisting the lovely plants available for purchase, but I convinced myself that they wouldn’t do well on the flight home. The Market also supplies all the fixings for a gourmet picnic basket.
Blackwater Cypress Swamp Tour
I so wish we had time to do the Swamp Tour during our visit to Middleton Place, but to paraphrase Scarlett, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about the tour for my next visit.”
This tour explores Middleton’s 1,100-acre cypress swamp in tandem kayaks, you can get up close and personal with the plants and animals that thrive under the 120-ft. tall trees. All kayak tours meet at the Inn at Middleton Place, and require advance reservations.