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Gardens of the Carolinas

by Mark Smith


There is a garden where lilies
And roses are side by side;
And all day between them in silence
The silken butterflies glide.

I may not enter the garden,
Though I know the road thereto;
And morn by morn to the gateway
I see the children go.

They bring back light on their faces;
But they cannot bring back to me
What the lilies say to the roses,
Or the songs of the butterflies be.

— Francis Turner Palgrave

Countless odes to gardens and the beauty and serenity one finds within have been put to paper over the centuries. It should come as no surprise that creating personal gardens and touring landscaped public gardens have become popular recreational and creative activities. Gardens are frequently revered for their meditative qualities in literature throughout most all cultures.
But just where did the art of gardening begin?

The earliest evidence for ornamental gardens is seen in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings — they depict lotus ponds surrounded by rows of acacias and palms. Ancient Persia, — today known as Iran, is also heralded for their beautiful gardens. Darius the Great was said to have had a “paradise garden” and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were renowned as a Wonder of the World. Persian influences extended to post-Alexander’s Greece: around 350 BC there were gardens at the Academy of Athens.

The most influential ancient gardens in the western world were Ptolemy’s gardens at Alexandria. Wall paintings in Pompeii attest to elaborate development later, and the wealthiest of Romans built enormous gardens, many of whose ruins are still to be seen, such as those at Hadrian’s Villa.

Byzantium and Moorish Spain kept garden traditions alive after the fourth century. By this time a separate gardening tradition had arisen in China, which was transmitted to Japan, where it developed into aristocratic miniature landscapes centered on ponds and Zen gardens of Buddhist temples.

In Europe, gardening revived in Languedoc and the Ile-de-France in the 13th century, and in the Italian villa gardens of the early Renaissance. French parterres — geometric gardens etched in stone — developed at the end of the 16th century and excelled even further under the direction of Andre le Notre, who is known as the greatest gardener in the history of France. English landscape gardens opened a new perspective in the 18th century.

The 19th century saw a plethora of historical revivals and Romantic cottage-inspired gardening, as well as the rise of flower gardens.

By the 20th century, gardening had expanded into city planning.

In North and South Carolina we have some of the most beautiful gardens in the world — many of them influenced by early French, English and even Zen gardens. If you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway, try visiting any of our favorite 10 picks listed below.

North Carolina

The Biltmore Estate Gardens
1 North Pack Square (Exit 50 off I-40)
Located in Asheville, the gardens (75 acres) were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for America’s largest private home — George Vanderbilt’s chateau. The site includes an Italian garden, shrub garden, walled English garden, azaleas, roses, conservatory, arbors, flowering bulbs, rhododendrons and annuals.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
6500 S. New Hope Rd.
Located in the Charlotte suburb town of Belmont, the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is an impressive and relatively new 400-acre botanical garden that will continue to grow in the years to come. Current features include perennials, woodland trail, canal garden, cottage garden, kitchen garden, numerous fountains and a visitors center.

North Carolina Botanical Garden
Mason Farm Rd. (off US 15/501 Bypass)
The North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill is a 600-acre garden focused on North Carolina native plants. Features include habit at gardens for coastal plain, piedmont and mountain regions; nature trails, ferns, rare plants, herbs, and poisonous plants.

Airlie Gardens
Airlie Rd. and Wrightsville Avenue just before Wrightsville Beach Bridge
Wilmington’s Airlie Gardens is a breathtaking historic waterfront plantation estate situated on 67 acres. Features include classic camellias, azaleas and massive mature oaks draped in
Spanish moss.

Orton Plantation Gardens
9149 Orton Rd. SE, off Hwy. 133 halfway between Wilmington and Southport
Eighteen miles south of Wilmington in tiny Winnabow are the Orton Plantation Gardens on the Cape Fear River. This 20-acre site includes formal and informal areas, large live oaks and native trees, azaleas, radial garden, white garden, scroll garden, sun garden and views of the old rice fields.

South Carolina

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
500 Wildlife Pkwy.
Columbia’s Riverbanks is home to more than 2,000 magnificent and fascinating animals and one of the nation’s most beautiful and inspiring botanical gardens. The lush 170-acre site features dynamic natural habitat exhibits, scenic river views, spectacular valley overlooks and significant historic landmarks. For more than 30 years, Riverbanks has offered a common place to connect with and learn about the world’s wildlife and wild places.

South Carolina Botanical Garden
Clemson University
102 Garden Trail Rd.
Highlights of the South Carolina Botanical Garden in Clemson, S.C., include a nationally recognized nature-based sculpture collection, an American Hosta Society display garden, 40-acre arboretum, nature trails, butterfly garden and wildflower meadow.

Hopeland Gardens
1700 Whiskey Rd.
Hopeland Gardens, a 14-acre estate in Aiken, S.C., presents the ideal grounds for a summer stroll among grand 100-year-old oak trees, deodara cedars, magnolia trees, terraces, reflecting pools, continuous blooms and numerous sculptures.

Magnolia Plantation
3550 Ashley River Rd.
Charleston’s Magnolia Plantation is the place where ornamental azaleas were first introduced in the United States and also one of the first to popularize camellias. This beautiful historic site showcases approximately 500 acres of horticultural highlights including an herb garden, camellia garden, the Tropical Barbados Garden and the Audubon Swamp Garden. Guided tours provide visitors the opportunity to view the natural beauty and wildlife of the grounds while exploring the history of the 300-year-old estate.

Middleton Place
4300 Ashley River Rd.
Another spectacular Charleston destination! The 18th century rice plantation showcases acres of America’s oldest landscaped gardens, which reflect the symmetry of 17th century European designs. Here visitors find year-round blooms, including rare camellias in winter and azaleas above the Rice Pond in spring.

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