Charleston Day Trip: Magnolia Gardens

Solo Travel for Introvert Ratings:

Sensory Calm  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – A very peaceful and relaxing place in nature.

Solo-Friendliness 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – Very solo-friendly.

Commute Friendly  3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) – A car is needed, and often Uber and other ride-sharing is not recommended, since return-trips may not be available.

Predictability 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) – Unfortunately, this place had poor organization with long distances between locations and overlapping event times.

Safety  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – Extremely safe place.

Nerdy stuff5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – Lots of history in the house here.

What & Where?

Magnolia Gardens is a historic plantation turned into a museum. It lies on the Ashely river near North Charleston. Charleston is surrounded by a lot of historic plantations along the Ashley and Cooper rivers, with tours available around the estates. I wanted to visit some of them to understand the history of enslavement, plantation economy and appreciate the Southern architecture and gardening.

Most plantation-museums today are owned by public preservation societies. Magnolia is an exception as it is still owned by the Drayton family, who are descendants of slave-owners. With this information, I checked online, making sure they acknowledge the history of slavery, actively co-operate with slavery historians, and, be transparent in educating visitors about the horrors of slavery with no apologia for slaver-ownership. This family fulfilled the criteria and also featured a “From Slavery to Freedom” educational tour – hence I decided to go ahead.

House & Main Gardens

We were given an inside-tour of the house, but however, photography was not permitted. Among the family history, I remember mentions of Sarah and Angelina Emily Grimke, two women who were suffragists and abolitionists. Their denouncing of slavery and other progressive activism led to them being driven out of town and fleeing to the North.

The property was very large (about half the size of Universal Studios, LA) and had a plethora of gardens and guided tours – many of which had to be bought individually with a la carte tickets. While the content of these were extremely worthwhile, I found the whole situation poorly organized. Some of these places were accessible by car, others by walking, and yet other, by internal carts and trolleys. The events all happened with overlapping times and the sheer size of the property led to me missing several ones which I had paid for.

Quarters where enslaved people were made to live

There was a whole list of gardens here – many floral with azaleas and roses, and some mimicking British gardens. However, my favorite part of the main gardens was the beautiful White Bridge – which rose over a lake in the shadow of oaks with Spanish moss dangling from them like curtains to play hide-and-seek in.

I also took a peek at the Slave Quarters. Most of the enslaved people in the Low Country were the Gullah people. In contrast to other enslaved groups, they were valued for their rice-growing skills and were specifically made to work on rice plantations. Gullah culture and people continue to thrive in modern-day US, and with their own unique dialect, food, music and art – constitute a distinct part of American heritage.

The Riverwalk

There was supposed to be a river-tour of the rice-fields by boat, but I missed it. However, I took the hike along riverside and it was pretty. I saw some monuments to mark the the place of siege led by British troops and defense by the Continental Army. People associate the American South with the Civil War alone, but this region tells just as much Revolutionary War stories too.

I also found a recreation of Miss Juliana – a rice barge, which transported the rice-harvest from the fields to Charleston along the Ashley river, back when roads were poor, and rivers were a more reliable transport.

With unpaid labor, rice-crops were highly profitable and made the Low-Country slaveowners some of the wealthiest people of the world at the time. The Carolina Gold Rice – the regional cultivar – is still grown today, though in very small amounts, and as a novelty for tourists alone.

Yet, rice remains a staple of the Southern diet in dishes like Jambalaya, Charleston Red Rice, Cajun Dirty Rice, Hopping John and Gullah Rice. The spices brought over from India by the British Empire also helps in their unique flavors.

Animal Petting Zoo

Of all gardens and farms, the petting zoo was clearly the winner for the kids. They had a large multitude of animals, from peacocks and geese, to sheep, goats and deer, and all the way to ponies.

Audubon Swamp Garden

The best part of the whole trip for me was the Audubon Swamp garden. I had always wanted to visit a Southern swamp but the opportunity eluded me. This made it very convenient – no need of boat rides. Instead, here, there was a long pier-like boardwalk which snaked around the whole swamp, making it just a walk.

Unfortunately, I encountered poor organization again. When I reached the doors, I found it number-locked, and several other people, not knowing what to do, turned away. After a lot of head-scratching, I noticed some digits hastily scribbled out at the bottom of my brochure from the fee counter. I tried them out and they worked. Maybe some instructions would have been nice.

Alligator sunbathing over one of the man-made boards

The swamp was one of the most unique places I’ve been. The water was a shade of interesting bright green with moss-blanketed trees protruding from them. Spanish moss hung from them like ghosts wearing ethereal gowns. The sounds of herons, cicadas and frogs added to the eerie atmosphere.

And I was finable to see swamp alligators. They were casually sunbathing over several wooden-boards above water. And on this high note, I decided to head back.

Overall, Magnolia gardens was worth the visit, I just recommend to be prepared before-hand to avoid the confusions.

Leave a Reply