Landscape Architecture

Designed landscapes that were utilized as pleasure, kitchen, and botanical gardens add to the inventory of landscape features within the district. These landscape features, much like the architecture they surrounded, played an important role in displaying the culture and wealth of the plantation aristocracy. Such gardens, water features, and terraces were crucial elements of plantation design and many of the plantations in the district developed and changed with subsequent generations—each one leaving their mark on the land—helping to further tell the history of the region well into the 20th century. In addition, two of the gardens have the distinction of being nationally and internationally significant—Middleton Place and Magnolia Gardens.

A wide variety of exotic plant species were introduced to the region over time—owners of at least three of the major plantations are known to have had a great interest in botany, and also had personal relationships with Andre Michaux, a famous French botanist. Charles Drayton owned acreage in Goose Creek, adjacent to land owned by Michaux, who was commissioned by Louis XVI to establish a nursery from which to export American plants to France. He also used this nursery to experiment with the propagation of native American species, and to test the suitability of European species to the Charleston climate. It is known that Charles Drayton and Michaux often exchanged visits and plants. Michaux also visited Middleton Place, and likely Magnolia Gardens. 

The most well-known plant he brought with him to introduce to the landscape of the region is the camellia. In the 1830s Reverend John Grimké Drayton introduced the Japanese Camellia into the landscape of Magnolia Gardens. Azaleas were later introduced to the gardens at Magnolia and Middleton Place. The introduction of these exotic plants into the landscape, as well as the archaeo-botanical remains at historic garden sites add to the significance that the district makes to the history of American landscape architecture.

Toward the end of the 19th century, designed landscapes in these rural settings began to be popular as tourist destinations. This popularity fostered a revitalization of historic landscape features at locations such as Magnolia Gardens and Middleton Place, as well as the creation of entirely new gardens, such as those engineered at Mateeba Gardens. Magnolia Plantation‘s gardens gained national recognition in the 1870s and were written up in European editions of Baedeker’s as one of three foremost attractions in America—alongside Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. These 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century landscapes significantly contribute to the understanding of the relationship between American landscape design and heritage tourism.

The physical infrastructure required by rice cultivation was the most technically exacting of any Colonial and Antebellum agricultural practices. As a result, the remnants of these features, such as fields, canals, dikes, reservoirs, and trunks, have left their mark on the landscape. The remnants of rice fields help demonstrate how land was organized for human use in the Ashley River Historic District—this is still legible despite subsequent exploitation by the phosphate and timbering industries. These 18th-century remnants are excellent reminders of an industry that helped the Carolina colony not only survive, but thrive. Additionally, further study of the landscape features created by rice cultivation will help us understand more about the relationship between the activities that created the rice fields and how rice fields were a major part of slave landscapes. Similarly, further study will enhance our understanding of how the rice fields, when studied in context with the slave settlements and roads, contribute on a larger scale to the overall landscape that is the Ashley River Historic District. 

The Ashley River region is rich with physical evidence of the various forms of designed landscapes utilized from the Colonial era through the mid-20th century, including features of rice cultivation, and pleasure, botanical, and kitchen gardens. All of these landscape features, be they utilitarian or for pleasure, are important components for understanding how the plantations were designed and how the plantation system functioned in the region. Many of these landscape features tie large areas of the cultural landscape together.

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