South Carolina; THE GARDENS OF MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
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The peak of the garden's beauty occurs in spring when 250 varieties of azaleas, some dating back more than 100 years, burst into a riot of color beneath the stately oak magnolia, and cypress trees. Spring in Charleston is a long one that stretches from February through May, beginning with the delicate blossoming of Magnolia's peach and crab apple trees and the blooming of the first jonquils, narcissus, and early azaleas. In March the flower beds are blanketed with daffodils, and by April the azales have reached their dazzling peak.Skip to next paragraph
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One pen only during the spring, Magnolia how now been planted with enough colorful variety to more than justify its year-round season.Summer, although not as colorful as spring, finds the garden decked with roses, hibiscus, hydrangeas, mimosa, lilies, and annuals. In fall comes a show nearly rivaling that of spring as the estate's hundreds of camellias, for which it has been famous since the 1940s, come into their own. The camellias continue in their full glory during the short winter into the middle of spring.
Although Magnolia isrenowned as a splendid example of an informal garden, it was originally patterned after the formal, stylized gardens of Georgian England. A charming remnant of that original late 17th-century garden still remains in a series of geometric brick-enclosed flower beds to the west of the house called Flowerdale. All of its plantings were brought over from Europe, as no self-respecting colonial aristocrats would have even considered planting native flowers in their gardens.
The principal part of the gardens stretch down from the back of the main house over to the grassy banks of the meandering Ashley River. To the west the river curves around Magnolia's 125-acre wildlife refuge, a marshland area thick with cattails, duckweed, and an almost limitless variety of birds.
A three-story observation tower at the edge of the marsh is a popular spot for bird-watchers, particularly just before sunset when thousands of wild ducks, egrets, herons, and geese come home to roost. Often visible as well are alligators making streamlined ripples across the water. For those who want to study the wildlife at closer range, nature trails wind around the marshland and canoes are available to explore the inlets.
A trip to Magnolia is greatly enhanced by learning something of the remarkable family that has so carefully tended it over the years. Taking one of the regularly scheduled tours of the main house reveals muh about the draytons, particularly the resourceful John Grimke Drayton who brought Magnolia out of the ashes of the Civil War to become both a popular tourist attraction and, thanks to a timely discovery of phosphate on the property, a profitable mining operation.
Among the collection of old photographs in the house are a few attributed to Mathew Brady of the palatial home that burned during the War. Other photographs show tourists in long skirts and straw hats disembarking from the paddle-wheel steamer that called in at magnolia from Charleston.
Among those early travelers was the English author and landscape painter John Galsworthy, who declared the gardens too beautiful to paint, calling them "a kind of paradise which has wandered down, a miraculously enchanted wilderness."
Decades later, it is still difficult not to agree.