Thursday, April 14, 2011

Southern Gardens

Southern Iris
Sir Walter Scott wrote that "Nothing is more a child of art than a garden."  I couldn't agree more.  I recently visited a couple of gardens of the southern variety in South Carolina -- one with a bit of southern history attached to it and the other a part of the legacy left to us by the Huntington family.

The first, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, is outside of Charleston.  It's been in the Drayton family since 1679.  The gardens are the creation of John Drayton who returned to Magnolia in the early 1800s and set out to create romantic gardens to make his wife -- born and bred in the north -- feel at home.  They are a wonderful setting for a plantation house that was reconstructed after the civil war.  Somewhere on the estate, the current matriarch of the Drayton family is still in residence.  I can imagine her sitting in a rocking chair on the wide porch of smaller version of the big house (which itself is a much smaller shadow of the original pre-civil war manse).  The house itself, sad to say, is not much to write home about.  The wide second porch that  envelops the second floor is perhaps the best feature.  One can see Scarlett and Rhett sitting there while she fretted over Ashley and he wondered how he would bed her.  

Taking Flight
Perhaps more disappointing is the sheer insanity of the way they've priced the thing.  It is like buying ride tickets for one of those traveling carnivals.  $10 gets you this many rides, $15 gets you this many, and so on.  Except worse -- want to walk the gardens? -- that will be $15.00 please.  Oh, you want to see the inside of the house, another $8.00 please.  Curious about the swamp gardens?  Want to understand how the slaves live?  Hungry and desiring a bite at our garden cafe?  Kids want to pet the animals in the zoo or take a boat ride?  You can pay $47 and get the whole shebang (including the train ride and the boat ride).  At the end of the day, it all feels a bit more about commerce than about history.   

Purple Unfurled
Not much blooming at Magnolia this past March -- mainly azaleas, some Iris, daffodils, and the remnants of some magnolias.  We stalked a great egret and warily eyed the alligator pretending to be a floating log.  The cool thing though -- although it slowed me down a bit and kept my sister and niece waiting -- was Ken the very chatty gardener.  That man loves plants and he could talk about them for hours.   Their season, like ours here in New York, is a bit out of whack with magnolias blooming early and others coming in a bit late.  He has visited NYC -- but more specifically has spent hours walking Central Park while his wife explored the concrete jungle that she loves.  He showed me the tiniest little tree frog -- something I would have missed if I hadn't stopped to chat.  Serendipity.

The second, the Brookgreen Gardens (in Myrtle Beach) still has some of that flavor of making choices (and donations) -- there is a boat ride and special guided tours, a well-stocked gift shop, and a cafe.  But it's not a hard sell -- you've already paid for your 7-day pass at the entrance gate and that is more than enough access for whiling away a cold spring day.  Plus, the money goes to maintaining the gardens and beautifully maintained they are.  Sculptures -- from the odd to the sublime -- are intertwined throughout and the old rice paddies have been left to return back to nature -- naturally and slowly.  

Mixed Bouquet
There are odd bits of poetry and sayings sprinkled throughout for the unwary visitor to stumble upon in his or her wanderings.   Take this little ditty by Joseph Auslander:

Regard The Snail
That in a Narrow Room
Inhabits Both
His Tower And His Tomb.
His Hollow House.
Poised Like A Sculptured Wave.
Becomes At Once
His Fortress And His Grave.

Not the best poetry ever written but sure does capture the life and death of a snail.  The gardens were the gift of the Huntington family -- they also gave the land now occupied by the state park that fronts the ocean across the street from Brookgreen.  One has to wonder what it was like to have the kind of wealth that you could gift a swath of land for the public good.  It's hard to focus on this when wandering the paths and corners of this gem of a garden in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Well worth taking an afternoon off from golf or the beach (or from mini-golf and shopping) to wander the gardens.  Throw caution to the winds and discard the map, forgo the boat ride and the guided tours.  Just wander the garden.  Sit in a quiet spot to contemplate the flora.

There is something about a garden -- man meets nature and makes art.  

Bee Meets Poppy