- South Carolina
Picturesque landscapes, moss-covered oak trees and the delicious scent of azaleas in full bloom...
...these are just a few of the reasons why spring is the perfect season to visit South Carolina’s plantations. Many of the plantations surrounding Charleston have storied histories that predate the formation of the USA. These stately homes and gardens — reminiscent of the owners’ European heritage and constructed using local materials — set the stage for discovering South Carolina’s multicultural roots.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Tranquil, enchanting, historic ... Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is what comes to mind when envisioning a classic Southern plantation. Founded along the Ashley River in 1676 by the Drayton family, right outside of what is now downtown Charleston, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens has witnessed the birth and life of a nation. The plantation features a plethora of attractions, including a zoo and nature center — complete with a petting zoo for children — and a boat tour that travels through Magnolia’s flooded rice fields. Of course, the gem of Magnolia Plantation is the gardens, with some sections that are more than 325 years old. Late spring is the best season to visit; that’s when calla lilies, dogwoods, hydrangeas, azaleas and countless other varieties of flowers burst into bloom.
The gardens at the Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, are among the oldest public gardens in the USA
Boone Hall Plantation
At nearly 300 hectares, Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, is one of the largest plantations in the Charleston area. Founded in 1681, the plantation was known for cotton and pecan production; today, it produces strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkins and many other fruits and vegetables that you can pick during your visit. The plantation features a variety of tours, including one that explores the rich Gullah culture (derived from African cultures), which has left a lasting impact on the region. You can also take a guided tour of the mansion, a self-guided garden tour of the front lawn and a trip to the butterfly pavilion. Don’t forget to stop by the Boone Hall Farms Market, which is located nearby, for treats to take home like locally made wine, jellies and sauces.
You’re welcome to pick some of the fresh fruits and vegetables growing on the beautiful Boone Hall Plantation.
Offering a taste of Europe with a Southern twist, the Middleton Place plantation is home to one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States. Located about 26 kilometers from downtown Charleston, these gardens showcase the geometry and symmetry that played an important role in the structure of classical gardens in Europe into the early 18th century. During the spring, you can wander along walkways covered by American holly and explore the rose garden, which features tea and China roses. Wrap up the day with outdoor activities like kayak tours on the Ashley River or the Blackwater Cypress Swamp and guided horseback trail rides.
Visit Middleton Place in the spring to see the roses in bloom.
Many of Charleston’s plantations stand as monuments to South Carolina’s history of agriculture, but the Mepkin Abbey is a testament to the state’s spirituality. Located about 67 kilometers north of Charleston, Mepkin Abbey houses a community of monks who dedicate their lives to prayer, work and hospitality. Established in 1949, the abbey occupies the lush grounds of the former Mepkin Plantation, where rice was grown and harvested as early as the late 1600s. Today, you are welcome to worship at the Mepkin Abbey Church, experience the serenity of the Nancy Bryan Luce Gardens, and enjoy the fruits of the monks’ labor: honey, mushrooms and handcrafted items can be purchased at the gift shop.
Find peace and tranquility on the grounds of Mepkin Abbey, where Roman Catholic monks have lived and farmed for more than 65 years.
Charleston Tea Garden
Sweetened iced tea is legendary in the southeastern United States, and at Charleston Tea Garden, travelers can learn firsthand how tea is grown, harvested and enjoyed. Located on Wadmalaw Island (a half-hour drive southwest of Charleston), the Charleston Tea Garden enjoys the perfect environment for growing tea, which it has done since 1963. This sprawling attraction is a treat for the eyes: Sidewalks are shaded by archways formed by centuries-old oak trees, and verdant fields of tea sprawl out in all directions. While here, you can take a trolley ride around the 51-hectare farm to see more than 320 varieties of plants used to make black and green teas. Take part in the complimentary factory tour to learn more about the differences in production of green, black and oolong teas (and taste them, too!).
A trolley tour of the Charleston Tea Garden and the factory will leave you thirsty for a tall glass of South Carolina sweetened ice tea.
Round out your visit to the Lowcountry with a day at Irvin-House Vineyards, the only winery in the Charleston area. Located near the Charleston Tea Garden on Wadmalaw Island, the 19.4-hectare winery and vineyard specializes in growing muscadine grapes, a fruit native to the Southeastern USA. The vineyards' five labels range from Live Oak Reserve (a slightly fruity blush wine) to Mullet Hall Red (a dry red wine with a distinctive muscadine flavor). Spend $5 for a self-guided tour and souvenir wine glass, which you can use for your tasting of all five varietals. Guests are also encouraged to bring a picnic and blankets to relax and dine in the vineyard.
Come and taste the fresh-from-the-vine offerings at Irvin-House Vineyards.