Walk the streets of downtown Charleston and you will find small gardens hidden behind scrolled iron gates. Some are formal, with a structure that is defined by paths and walkways. Others are rambling borders nestled into the corners by old brick walls.
Old oaks draped with Spanish moss give age and maturity to a garden or a yard, and banks of azaleas burst with color for about two weeks a year. The rest of the time, they provide a background of verdant green.
Another garden might be centered around palmetto trees. The tree is an icon featured on the state flag, license plates, bumpers, hats, shirts, towels. You get the idea. We love the tree as much as we love sea turtles.
In winter, camellias are the staple, putting out fancy blooms that make gorgeous floating centerpieces just in time for Christmas dinner. In a mild winter, they can bloom for several months.
Other spring garden favorites are Confederate jasmine, hydrangea and other cultivars such as the famed Noisette rose and the poinsettia, named for Charleston native Joel Roberts Poinsett. Even the types of plants have deep roots in the area's history books.
If you are good with a green thumb, opportunities to find plants year-round come from farmers markets and garden shows, plant sales and botanical outings.
Markets and CSAs
Within the past two decades, the popularity of farmers markets have spread to almost every town in the Charleston metro area and have become true gathering places. For those who aren’t into the markets but want local produce, many area farmers offer shares of community-supported agriculture or CSAs.
Clubs, volunteer groups
The area has several botanical groups that hold regular meetings, workshops and events, including the Charleston Horticultural Society, the Lowcountry chapter of the S.C. Native Plant Society, Charleston Parks Conservancy and lots of garden clubs, including one of the oldest in the United States, the Garden Club of Charleston.
Two of the biggest and longest-running annual garden tours in the area are the Historic Charleston Foundation’s Festival of Houses and Gardens in early spring and the Garden Club of Charleston’s House and Garden Tour in April.
Year-round, however, many local plantations have gardens, formal and natural, to explore, including Middleton Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, Drayton Hall and Boone Hall.
Native and heirloom plants can be hard to find, but the Lowcountry chapter of the S.C. Native Plant Society holds plant sales in March and October every year. The horticultural society holds a two-day plant sale, Plantasia, in mid-April.
For those who need to fill the void between plant sales, locally owned nurseries offer plenty. The go-tos in Charleston are Hyam’s Garden & Accent Store on James Island, Abide-A-While Garden Center in Mount Pleasant, Roots and Shoots Native Plants in West Ashley, Hidden Ponds Nursery in Awendaw and Brownswood Nursery on Johns Island.