The Lowcountry is replete with sprawling antebellum plantations that recall the slave-based system of rice and indigo cultivation, and of verdant gardens punctuated by massive live oaks clothed in luxurious Spanish moss.
Guests often ask Charlestonians which one is the best to visit, as if we could possibly choose! So here’s a guide to the area plantations and gardens. Pick the one (or ones!) that best suits you.
Boone Hall Plantation – founded in 1683, Boone Hall is best known for its long approach lined with symmetrically placed live oaks and its stark slave quarters, which vividly demonstrate the oppression of that discredited institution. Boone Hall has more events than any other plantation, boasting seven separate tours right now, and more attractions for children, highlighted by the butterfly garden (not open during the winter). Admission is $24 for adults and $12 for children. Combine it with a harbor tour and save on admission.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens – America’s most visited plantation, Magnolia Gardens is America’s oldest public gardens, dating back to 1676, a full century before the birth of the nation. Enjoy hundreds of flower species in spectacular bloom across the seasons. A place to forget the humdrum rhythms of everyday life, whether you walk through the gardens, ride the nature train or cruise the rice fields. Have your camera ready for the garden’s peacocks, who like to display their colors in front of you. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for kids over 6, but each of the attractions is another $8.
Visit Adventure Sightseeing Plantation Tours to book Boone Hall or Magnolia Gardens, and other great land-based tours.
Middleton Place – a National Historic Landmark that is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens, Middleton Place was constructed hard against the Ashley River in 1705 by Henry Middleton, president of the First Continental Congress. Its gorgeous geometric gardens serve as a perfect lunch spot, while the house museum and the stable yards, where you can watch the work of 18th century craftsmen, will keep you busy for much of a day. Prepare to do a lot of walking. All that costs $43 for an adult, less for children.
Drayton Hall – What sets Drayton Hall apart is that it remains unrestored – i.e., what you see upon visiting is how it looked when its last residents left it. Though built in 1774, it was a living Georgian-Palladian residence and grounds for two centuries. Take a guided tour through the house and around the lovely 125-acre grounds. A great place for history and architecture buffs. Admission is $22 for adults; less for children.
Charleston Tea Plantation — North America’s only tea plantation and a favorite of locals and visitors alike, Charleston Tea Plantation sits on beautiful Wadmalaw Island, 23 miles south of Charleston. More than 100 acres of tea plants — 320 varieties of black and green tea — are on display for free, or take one of several guided tours and get a taste of real, homegrown tea.
Cypress Gardens – About 30 miles from downtown Charleston sits historic Cypress Gardens, a stunning cypress swamp that served as the backdrop to movies such as The Patriot and The Notebook. Walk along the trails or paddle a canoe through the tea-colored swamp and enjoy the wildlife living off the massive cypress trees and their “knees.” Bring your children to the greenhouse, where butterflies roam freely and bees build their hive before you.
Note: Cypress Gardens was devastated by the historic flooding event of 2015 and is closed until further notice.
McLeod Plantation Historic Site – An important Gullah/Geechee heritage site, McLeod Plantation boasts the McLeod Oak, a magnificent 600-year-old specimen that anchors Oak Allée, the moss-drenched approach to the main house. McLeod is the place to visit for an unvarnished experience of slaves’ lives and their road to freedom, contrasted with the opulence of the main house’s residents. Admission is $10 for ages 13+ and $6 for children.
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site – A principal author and signer of the Constitution, Charles Pinckney used this Snee Farm property as a country retreat. Located in Mt. Pleasant, the site has wooded and swampy areas and a manicured grassy area with ornamental plantings around the main house. The property also includes a barn, corncrib and caretaker’s residence. Admission is free.