If you peered “Behind the Garden Gate,” you saw eight of Charleston’s most beautiful gardens scattered throughout the historic district.
Spoleto Festival USA, the Charleston Horticultural Society and the Garden Conservancy collaborated on the tour, which featured 16 gardens. Eight were highlighted last Saturday, and the remaining eight displayed their treasures on May 30.
Many of those treasures can be traced back, directly or indirectly, to landscape architect Loutrel Briggs. Briggs helped to create the iconic Charleston garden, which makes clever use of limited space, according to Benjamin Lenhardt, chairman of the Garden Conservancy.
One of Briggs’s first assignments was the Roebling Garden for the William Gibbes House which he worked on between 1927 and 1931, which was featured on the first tour. The Gibbes House garden is larger than a typical Briggs garden but incorporates many of his design elements, according to Lenhardt.
To take full advantage of the available space, Briggs created different elevations.
“He would change the elevation just by maybe two or three bricks high — in other words, probably no more than 6 or 7 inches,” Lenhardt said. “As you move from one elevation to the next, mentally you begin to think that the garden is much bigger than it really is.”
Briggs also mixed old Charleston brick and bluestone and relied on crape myrtles, boxwoods and azaleas, all of which do well in Charleston’s climate.
“His palette was what really has become Charleston’s small garden palette,” Lenhardt said. “And he used, of course, enormous amounts of boxwood to make the sculptures of the gardens.”
Bill Eubanks, a landscape architect, said Charleston gardens are unique because of their varied elevation and the different spaces that are created.
“I think the thing that makes a Charleston garden uniquely a Charleston garden is that it is a series of outdoor rooms,” Eubanks said. “They are usually very small, but even when they are small, they tend to be divided into a series of outdoor areas.”
Some of those outdoor rooms have been opened to the public, courtesy of “Behind the Garden Gate.”
Blair Sylvester is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.