During a recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina, my husband and I spent a delightful afternoon discovering the charms of Middleton Place. Remarkably, this seventeenth-century plantation on the banks of the Ashley River has remained under the stewardship of the same family for more than three hundred years.
The estate boasts the oldest established formal gardens in the United States—originally considered the finest in all the colonies. With the assistance of an English gardener, Henry Middleton (1717–1784) began creating the 65-acre European-style oasis in 1741. The classic design follows the contours of the land to make a right triangle, with aerial perspectives of sweeping terraces, ornamental canals, and lush galleries revealing astonishing mathematical precision. According to local lore, it took a hundred workers more than a decade to bring the spectacular vision to fruition.
Today, as I stroll centuries-old walkways framed by deep-green foliage, I am struck by the intangible gifts of exploring such a resplendent setting. With each step, modern cares fade—worries, to-do lists, and deadlines seem incongruent with the serenity of these surroundings. At every turn, surprises come into view. Whether a profusion of hydrangeas sprinkling the path with azure petals, rays of sunlight peeking through a clearing to illuminate a delicate sculpture, or the blissful harmony of swans gliding effortlessly across a shimmering pond, glimpses of loveliness remind me that joy marks my path. The challenge is to notice the blessings that each day brings. Nearing a bluff’s edge, I reflect on the generations before me who gazed across these sparkling vistas of river, marsh, and sky. Did their hearts, like mine, stir with the tingling thrill of possibility at the sight of such expansive beauty?
Traversing this beloved homestead, I think about the early masters of this property who figured prominently in American history. The Middleton lineage includes a president of the First Continental Congress, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a former governor of South Carolina. As much as this garden represents the fulfillment of their aspirations, I can’t help but wonder if this brilliant Lowcountry treasure wasn’t itself an inspiration for achieving greatness. Following their well-worn paths, I am encouraged to pursue my own dreams.
—Melissa Lester, Assistant Editor, Victoria magazine
To see more of Melissa’s photos of Middleton Place, visit her blog.