'Behind the Garden Gate'

Visitors enjoy some shade in the garden at George Eveleigh House during The Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program tour at Spoleto USA.

Eesha Patkar

Charleston is home to some of the most fascinating and intricate gardens, and for the first time ever Spoleto Festival USA and 13 private garden owners partnered to open their wrought-iron gates to the ticketed public.

“We wanted gardens with unique designs, that are well-tended to, that have good maintenance practices and unique plant material,” said Susan Epstein, manager of plantasia and tours at the Charleston Horticultural Society. “So, we went to friends and family first and asked if they would open their gardens.”

The Saturday event, “Behind the Garden Gate,” sold out.

With so many individuals coming to admire the hard work of the garden owners, it was important for each garden to be in good shape.

“A well-tended garden requires constant attention,” said Patti McGee, a garden owner who has lived in Charleston for 58 years. “When special occasions arise, such as this open day, my friend and garden designer, Beverly Rivers, works with me several hours each week. I had a lot of extra hands at work this week.”

That hard work did not go unnoticed. Each unique garden is rich with various shades of green, occasional pops of color and the soothing sounds of birds chirping in the background. The gardens are adorned with water features (sometimes more than one) which creates a serene and relaxed environment for visitors.

Nearly all of the gardens are decorated with wrought-iron gates and stucco walls. “Iron gates allow you to peek through to different areas of the garden, and they offer security,” Epstein said. “Stucco walls add vertical elements and depth. They make it more multidimensional.”

Each garden reflects the individuality of the homeowner.

“You can see personality in the gardens,” Epstein said. “Some don’t have one weed out of place. Others, just as beautiful, are made on a shoestring budget.”

Some of them are separated into different “rooms” to make the space feel large, yet still intimate. Some rooms are designed for shade-tolerant plants; other rooms are flooded with sunlight.

“Behind the Garden Gate” attracted gardeners from far and wide. Barbara Conrad and Jim Houser, both gardeners from Charlotte, traveled to Charleston specifically to take in the beauty of these particular gardens.

“These gardens manage to pick up pieces of the history of Charleston,” Houser said. “You can take techniques from every garden you see. They have managed to make shrubs look beautiful.”

Visitors weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the day. Despite all the prep work, Garden owners, too, said they benefited from the event.

“It is a pleasure to meet other gardeners and share ideas and experiences, and maybe even a pass-along plant,” McGee said.

Alyssa Nappa is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.