For their final day of NAX, the Fellows visited Magnolia Plantation just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Magnolia Plantation has been owned by the Drayton family for over 300 years and was a rice plantation until shortly before the Civil War when Reverend John Drayton began converting the property’s focus to gardens. Originally planted as traditional formal gardens, the Reverend decided to transform the space into the new romantic style. Over 150 years later, the gardens are a beautiful blend of the two styles and feature magnificent live oaks and a collection of over 27,000 camellias.
Today, Magnolia strives to be a place where visitors can get away from the world while also staying relevant to the surrounding community. For example, the garden is considered to be one of America’s most dog-friendly destinations, and the organization even offers free annual memberships to families who adopt dogs from local shelters. In addition, all profits generated from the garden go towards the Magnolia Plantation Foundation, which gives scholarships and grants to local students and organizations.
Magnolia’s commitment to relevance was evident throughout the Fellow’s day in the garden. Starting with a tour of the gardens, Assistant Horticulturist Kate White and Special Events/Festival Coordinator Karen Lucht shared both the history of the gardens and their current operations strategies. Afterwards, the Fellows were treated to a special “Lunch and Listen” with Isaac Leach, a life-long garden employee whose family has worked at Magnolia for several generations. Isaac grew up on the property, where his family lived in a former slave cabin until the early 1990’s. The Fellows were fascinated to hear about his experiences growing up and working at the garden, which he lovingly described as the place he was meant to be.
The Fellows finished the day with Magnolia Plantation’s unique Slavery to Freedom tour led by Joseph McGill, founder of The Slave Dwelling Project. The tour leads visitors through several of the plantation’s former slave cabins, restored to different time periods between the pre-Civil War era and the Civil Rights Movement. The tour brings the story of Magnolia Plantation full-circle and helps represent the reality of the garden’s history as a rice plantation.
The Fellows would like to thank all of the Magnolia staff who went above and beyond to make this such a special experience!