Drugstore Divas received a pass for admission from the Charleston CVB. Because of that, this Magnolia Plantation And Gardens: America’s Oldest Public Garden post is sponsored.
One of the first things you see when you get into Magnolia Plantations and Gardens in Charleston, SC is St. Fiacre of Breuil, the patron saint of gardeners.
“Maybe I should pray to him for our garden,” I told Pete.
We have a vegetable and herb garden in our backyard, which you’ve definitely seen if you follow me on Instagram. What I’ve never gotten into planting, though, is a flower garden. You really need to know what to plant and when to plant it in order to have a successful one. So I don’t even try.
I love them, though, and any chance we get to go to a botanical garden, we go.
There are some things we often skip on vacation, like aquariums and chain restaurants. We like them well enough, but we live really close to an aquarium and you can dine at chain restaurants anywhere. So we don’t like to patronize those on our trips. But botanical gardens are so different wherever you are. Different plants and flowers grow in different areas, so whenever I see one near our vacation destination, I add it to our plans.
When I saw Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, Charleston’s first tourist destination, I knew we had to go.
Magnolia Plantation And Gardens: America’s Oldest Public Garden
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (3550 Ashley River Road) was established in 1676 when Stephen gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, Ann, and her husband Thomas Drayton. It is now in the 12th and 13th generations of the Drayton family.
The property used to be a lot larger than it is now, though. It was originally 2,000 acres, but Reverend John Grimke-Drayton invested a lot of money in Confederate bonds. That didn’t work out for him, as history could tell you, so in order to make money, he sold 1,500 acres. That’s why the gardens are now only 500 acres.
They’re also a natural garden now. In the past it had been a working rice farm. You can see remnants of that now. There are four standing cabins that had been used as slave houses. Two families shared each cabin, with 10 to 15 people per cabin. Originally, there were 11 cabins on the plantation. What was shocking to me was to find out that the cabins were used from the 1850s to the late 1990s. I found that out after we left the gardens, and I really wish I would have known sooner so I could ask a guide who lived in the homes barely three decades ago.
One of the tours you can purchase is the From Slavery to Freedom: The Magnolia Cabin Project Tour, and I’m sure the cabins’ occupants are covered then. That’s a 45-minute guided tour. We didn’t opt in for that tour because we had spent time at the Old Slave Mart Museum (6 Chalmers St). That’s a self-guided museum with an extensive history of the slave trade in Charleston. With limited time, you can’t do everything, so you have to choose.
There are three other tours at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens: the Nature Tram Tour (a 45 minute guided train ride through the gardens), The Plantation House Tour (a 30- to 45-minute guided tour of the Drayton family home), and Audubon Swamp Garden (a one hour self-guided tour through the swamp). If you do the Audubon Swamp Garden, it’s recommended that you finish everything at the main garden and then tour the swamp on the way out since it’s off of the exit road. The gardens close at 5:30pm, but you can stay in the Audubon Swamp Garden until dusk.
There’s also the Rice Field Boat Tour, but it is currently closed for improvements.
When you pay your admission for the gardens, you can add on these additional tours. Based on when you enter the garden, you’ll be assigned times for the guided tours since they only depart at specific times.
Included in your admission (which you can actually purchase on Groupon to get a discount) is an indoor conservatory (which is half garden, half siting area, 100% something I want in our backyard), a maze (which is a replica of England’s Hampton Court maze), access to the gardens including sites like the Cattail Wildlife Refuge (with a huge observation tower), the Miss Julianna (a reproduction of a rice barge), and the petting zoo.
I didn’t do enough research about these gardens beforehand because I had no idea there was a zoo there as well. We did hear some noises when we entered, but we assumed it was the peacocks that roam freely.
We were definitely wrong.
The zoo has pigs, ducks, chickens, deer, snakes, owls, goats, and more. Some are in cages and some roam freely, so definitely keep an eye out for those while you open the door to get in.
Some other things to look out for when you’re in the garden: the cypress trees. The tree itself looks like a regular tree, but it has these crazy looking roots called “cypress knees” that pop out of the ground for no real known reason. Those were super cool to see.
We also saw tupelo gum trees, which is where tupelo honey comes from.
And alligators. We saw lots of alligators. Definitely keep an eye out for them. It was hot when we went, so mostly, we just saw alligator eyes popping out from under the water. See, alligators are ectothermic, which means they can’t internally regular their body temperature. So when they’re hot, they submerge themselves in water. There are wooden structures built above the lakes so the alligators can sun themselves when they’re cold.
Honestly, I suggest upgrading your ticket to purchase the Nature Tram tour. We saw a heron and egrets and other birds, and our tour guide was so knowledgeable. Much of the history in this post was stuff he mentioned on the tour.
Plus, the 45 minute tour was a great way to see the backside of the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens without having to walk that far. We were on vacation for a long weekend, so we did have to rush around a little. Walking that part of the gardens would have taken hours. Plus, we wouldn’t have anyone to really explain what we were looking at, so that was worth it.
And, in case you’re wondering, we were able to take beverages (including beer purchased at the gardens’ Peacock Cafe) onto the tram.
Have you been to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens? Let us know about your trip in the comments.
Planning a trip to Charleston, SC?
To help you plan your trip to Charleston, check out our 24 Hours in Charleston, SC post.
Want to check out other botanical gardens in the Southeast?
Magnolia Gardens and Plantations is a really nice botanical garden in the Southeast.
Other botanical gardens worth checking out that are within driving distance of Magnolia Plantation:
– Airlie Gardens, Wilmington, NC
– Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC
– Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Fayetteville, NC
– Mepkin Abbey Botanical Garden, Moncks Corner, SC
– Moore Farms Botanical Gardens, Lake City, SC
– Riverbanks Botanical Garden, West Columbia, SC
– Savannah Botanical Gardens, Savannah, GA