Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is the oldest public garden in America and the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry. Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, the plantation is the most visited plantation in Charleston, South Carolina and is America's last large scale romantic style garden.

Magnolia Plantation has been family owned since Thomas and Ann Drayton immigrated from Barbados to Charles Towne, an English Colony, in 1676. The plantation is still owned by the descendant of the Drayton family to this day, almost 350 years later. The plantation has seen the entire history of Charleston, and the State of South Carolina played out before it's very grounds. Photo: YUMU/Fotolia


»Magnolia Plantation History

Magnolia Plantation History


The plantation provided a surge of wealth for Thomas and Ann Drayton during the rice cultivation of the colonial era. The grounds were occupied by both British and American troops during the Revolutionary War in which both of the Drayton Sons, also statesmen, fought as soldiers against British rule. Although some of the gardens were started in the late 17th century, it was after fighting was over in the late 18th century that the gardens began to expand and grow.

In 1838, the Great Grandson of the original Drayton, John Drayton, inherited the plantation. He contracted tuberculosis and decided that before he died, he would create a massive expansion of the gardens, creating several romantic style gardens for his wife. Miraculously, his health recovered and he attributed working in the gardens as his cure for tuberculosis. He would go on to live another 50 years on the plantation. The gardens that he created were inspired by the new way of English gardening where, instead of having harsh, deliberate landscaping, the gardens were allowed to grow and change in natural ways.

John Drayton is accredited with making the gardens as they are today, embellished natural beauty, in tune with the nature surrounding it. Drayton was also the very first person to grow the azalea flower in America as well as the first to use a special species of Camellia, called Japonica in an outdoor garden. The gardens today are abundant in many varieties of these two species and lack a large amount of the Southern magnolia tree for which the plantation was named.

The plantation went through hard times during the Civil War, but recovered with the gardens, rather than agriculture, becoming the focus of the plantation. In 1870, the gardens were open to the public which saved the plantation from being financially ruined and sold. The planation has operated as a tourist attraction ever since. Charleston, SC: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens - Photo: IKvyatkovskaya/Fotolia

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»The Gardens

The Gardens


The Gardens of Magnolia Plantation are the last large-scale romantic style gardens in America. The gardens were created to look like a sort of Eden, a tranquil and beautiful garden, where nature and humanity co-exist in harmony. These gardens are also the oldest un-renovated gardens in The United States. This means that they are still in their original design 325 years later. The gardens are also ever expanding as each generation of Drayton adds their own personal touch to the garden.

Romantic-style gardens seek to transport the viewer to another life, where one can feel like there are in a world of beauty, tranquility, hope and sunshine. A place where someone can forget the worries and tribulations of the day, the gardens try to empower the common man. The gardens at Magnolia Plantation also contain the oldest collection of Indica Azaleas in America. They gorgeous flowers are the greatest attraction of the garden when they are in bloom. Some of the azaleas that have been found growing in the garden are extremely rare including 15 different varieties that were once thought to be extinct and can now only be found in Magnolia Garden.

There are many other beautiful floral species in the garden from hibiscuses, roses, lilies, and camellias. The original brick paths and strange black lakes that are former rice fields tie all of the gardens together. The camellias are said to be some of the most beautiful in the world and are in full bloom from November through March. There are over 20,000 camellias, with the pre 1900 flowers being the specialty of the gardens. Charleston, SC: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens - Photo: macangel44/Fotolia

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»The House

The House


Visitors can take tours of the plantation house for an additional cost while at Magnolia Garden. The core of the current main house was built pre Revolutionary War and the entire house is only the third to have ever been built on the property that has remained in the Drayton family. The ten rooms that are open to the public are furnished with 19th century antique furniture, bedding, wall paper, flooring windows along with particular Drayton family heirlooms. The guided tours are a half an hour long and take patrons through the history of the home, the Drayton family and what became of the two other homes. The guides will also explain what life was like in the 19th century and the role the plantation played in the Revolutionary and Civil War. Charleston, SC: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens - Photo: emmi/Fotolia

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»The Nature Train Tour

The Nature Train Tour

Visitors can take a tour on a tram through the marshes, swamp lands, lakes, forests and more with a naturalist guide for additional admittance. These tours last just under an hour and visitors can expect to see alligators, turtles, cranes, egrets, herons, and much more wildlife in their natural environments. Visitors will also get to see a Native American ceremonial ground, a row of slave cabins from the 19th century, and 600 acres of original south nature and gardens.

The Rice Field Boat Tour

Head over to the rice lake docks for an hour long boat tour. The guided tour is one hour long and in addition to general admission. The tour guide will talk about the plantations history of rice growing and slavery while exploring the lakes and canals throughout the property. Expect to see many forms of wildlife on this tour such as flocks of geese, ducks, frogs, alligators, birds and fish.

Magnolia Cabin Project Tour

Plantation visitors can be shuttled to the five former slave cabins that have been preserved from 1850. This tour will educate visitors on slave history in America and South Carolina in particular, what life was like for African Americans in this time, and the modern civil rights periods.

Zoo and Nature Center

Included in general admission is the zoo and nature center. Many of the animals are native to the land and are representative of plantation life. Most of these animals cannot be easily seen in the wild such as the silver fox, white tail deer, bobcat, lizards and some venomous species. The zoo holds special programs on the weekends in the Alligator Amphitheater to educate visitors on some of the different animal species in the zoo. Most the time, visitors are invited to go up to the stage and touch or pet the animal on display.

Audubon Swamp Garden

The swamp gardens are home to thousands of plant and animal species, floating islands and trees that grow straight out of the water. The water is completely black and every year, hundreds of large birds such as herons and egrets, nest along the trails. The swamp garden is not included in general admission, but allows visitors to use boardwalks and bridges to get across to natural swamp areas that they may not see otherwise. Charleston, SC: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens - Photo: Matthewfotolia/Fotolia

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»Plan This Vacation

Plan This Vacation


Magnolia Plantation and Gardens has a small restaurant called Peacock Cafe that serves breakfast in the morning only, sandwiches, snacks, salads, ice cream, entrees, candy and alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine.

The gift shop at the plantation is the largest in Charleston and sells sculptural works, crafts related to Lowcountry, and many unusual gifts as well. Located on the bottom floor of the plantation home, the gift shop also has many antiques and unique home decor.

Bird lovers can join a local ornithologist on Sunday morning to go on extensive bird walks throughout the gardens. Photographers are welcome to use the tour to photograph the property at early morning light and the tour is in addition to general admission to the grounds. Cookies and coffee are served immediately following the bird walk.

Events at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

The grounds of Magnolia are often used for weddings and other special events. Weddings can be held in multiple places on the property and during these events the areas will be closed to the public. The veranda, carriage house, conservatory, pavilion, and several of the lawns are popular places to host a wedding or reception.

Youth programs are also hosted on the grounds of Magnolia Plantation. Birthday parties can be scheduled, school field trips, boy scout merit badge programs, camping, and other outreach programs use the property for their programs. Magnolia Plantation is proud to support their community with these programs where kids can become educated on the history of South Carolina in a realistic, historical setting. School groups often use the property to teach about the subjects of slavery in America, the Revolutionary and Civil War and life in the 19th century.

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3550 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, South Carolina 29414, website, Phone: 843-571-1266 Charleston, SC: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens - Photo: aarud/Fotolia

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Charleston, SC: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens