Escaping the St Paddy's Day insanity of Savannah, my daughter and I landed in Charleston without any preparation or planning; with nary an internet search between us, both of us too busy writing on our respective writings, to seek out suitable things to do.
Lo and behold, the Glorious Gardens of Charleston Tour, March 17.
We proceed to buy the very expensive tickets and head that way. I know not to start at Garden #1, so we go for #7, because it's closest to where we park due to raw and blistered feet from the previous day's wandering.
This tour is so civilized; men in straw boaters guide you along the narrow and picturesque streets and 'alleys", while soft-spoken women with that indefatigable southern poise and self-possesion welcome you into the garden gates with a horticultural tidbit, "this lovely scent is a tea olive, our answer to lilacs", or some personal note, "this garden is meant for their children".
Except for Garden #7. We are early and the hostess asks the few of us where we are all from and makes small talk. Then she heaves a sigh, casts a glance at my big Canon camera and asks me if I know that photography is not allowed inside the gardens. My incredibly crestfallen face says no.
I start talking fast, "I'm a freelance garden writer, I do a garden blog, I..." She tells me that it is actually a South Carolina state law, enacted after enterprising thieves came on tours, photographed and ebayed garden art and ornament stolen to order.
She shows me the line where private property begins and photography is not permitted.
She sighs again and says, "Come with me..." and I follow her to the garden through the narrow entry. She kindly but sternly tells me, "One photograph". Garden helpers are all over the central fountain and I moan, but all she says is, "They'll just have to be in the picture". I turn forty five degrees and take a shot.
I have seen prettier and more impressive gardens, but the idea of forbidden fruit heightens my interest. And then after we have viewed the garden with the other tourists and go to leave, she says something to me, but I only catch the words "Mrs. Whaley".
Like I said, we arrived without doing our homework, "You mean 'the Mrs Whaley''?"
"Yes, this is her garden."
"Excuse us, we will be going back in." Re-entering I tried to imagine the gracious parties amid the flowers and foliage with the trickling of the fountain mixing with the tinkle of ice cubes and cutlery from ladies in crisp cotton.
I didn't realize I had just been in the legendary Mrs Whaley's garden, of the book fame "Mrs Whaley and her Charleston Garden". A plantswoman, gardener, and social hostess of her time and ahead of her time. Noted landscape architect Loutrel Briggs designed her garden in 1942, yet she had made it her own re-arranging plants to her taste and venturing beyond the limited plant palette of most southern gardens.
Sometimes it is not the garden but the gardener that makes the magic, recreating an Eden of their own.
.....More Charleston garden photographs (all perfectly legal) coming soon.