Act 2: The Charleston, or a Peek at Mrs. Whaley’s Garden and (Window) Box Seats

Here’s hoping everyone is staying cool, enjoying ocean or lake breezes. Or maybe, like me, just enjoying the air conditioning and the Olympics. The Mister and I are happy to have all the children under our roof tonight, only the second night in the past month! And Little leaves tomorrow for a couple of weeks with her Florida grandparents and cousins before we all meet up at Saint George Island. The Mister and I have been on the road a lot this summer to various camps and mission trips and lacrosse tournaments. Still, the highlight so far was our little trip to Charleston.

mrs whaley

It’s been more than two years ago since I first wrote about the book  Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden  here. More recently, Reggie Darling wrote his own review of this charming book.

I first discovered this book, one of my favorites, several years ago, and I re-read it every spring. Mrs. Whaley’s memoir reflects the best of the Southern way of life, from gardening to cooking and entertaining to simple gracious manners. Imagine my surprise when the Mister told me he’d looked up the address of Mrs. Whaley’s garden. Although Mrs. Whaley has been dead for several years, I knew that her garden was still maintained by one of her daughters. I was excited to think I might get a peek at the elegant garden through the wrought iron gate.

After a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, bacon and, of course, grits at our inn, The Cabell House, the Mister and I began walking up Church Street to Mrs. Whaley’s house, built in 1754.  There on the gate was a small hand-lettered sign, saying that Mrs. Whaley’s garden was open to the public, and something to the effect of donations were welcome and could be slipped through the mail slot. Now, folks, if you’re not familiar with Charleston, let me assure you that this is prime real estate South of Broad, every house is historic and worth millions. To think that we could just let ourselves in to look around was astonishing.
  But we did, and stepped into this magical garden. We walked the slate entry path, which doglegs to the left, just as she described.IMG_0831Next, you see a small sitting area and a gurgling fountain, and then as you turn to your right, the garden itself opens up and draws you in. IMG_0832The entire garden is only 30 feet wide and 100 feet deep.  The lawn is bordered by old, moss-covered brick, and if memory serves the garden is bound by brick walls on all three sides. IMG_0833 Yew and myrtle and azaleas and boxwood provide most of the plant structure of the garden. The centuries-old live oak offers a stunning sculptural feature.IMG_0834 Most of the color in early June came from the French blue hydrangeas.IMG_0835Designed in 1941, the garden has a charming water feature. This pond is truly only a bird bath, no more than two inches deep. Clearly shaped by hand, this tiny pond adds a lovely focal point, especially when viewed from a slight distance. IMG_0836Liriope and ferns and a variety of ivies soften the garden’s edges. To spend the better part of an hour alone here with the Mister was an absolute luxury. No one else was around, and the only sound was birdsong, even though the rush of King Street was only a few blocks away.

After we left Mrs. Whaley’s garden, the Mister and I enjoyed a late morning and early afternoon of walking, with no particular agenda in mind other than to enjoy each other’s company and perhaps find a few ideas to borrow to use in our own garden projects. As a result, I snapped a lot of photos of Charleston’s ubiquitous window boxes. IMG_1288 Much of the old part of Charleston is well-shaded, so caladiums and sweet potato vine are popular window box additions.IMG_0837I love how some gardeners match their flora to their house and shutter colors and how others plant vibrant contrasting colors. IMG_0838IMG_0846 Yes, that’s a hydrangea in the window box above!IMG_0848 The importance of texture can’t be overstated.IMG_0852 I love all the greens against the old red brick in the Charleston Green window box. IMG_0866The gardening rule of thumb is to have “a thriller, a spiller, and a filler” in every container, although sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which! IMG_0867IMG_0881Exuberant petunias steal the show here.IMG_0877 Red caladiums and begonia add a bold contrast to the black window trim and shutters.IMG_0882A profusion of pinks and lavenders brings out the softer shades of this red brick. IMG_1282
I had to get a picture of the popular decal that says Gut Fishes Not Houses!
Do you have a favorite?


  1. I just finished reading mRS. Whaley's book and this is so timely. Somehow I imagined it just a tad larger. Did you see Rosie? What a charming book.

  2. Thank you for the tour of Mrs. Whaley's garden, and the window boxes of Charleston, too. I long to see Mrs. W's garden at some point. Thanks for the shout out! With regards, Reggie

  3. That garden is beyond beautiful...and there is a book! Oh my! Must get. The window boxes are all lovely too. What a wonderful trip! I have only been to Charleston as a child, and we did not tour the gardens. We might just have to plan a trip.

  4. Beautiful. Of course, what's so different than California, is all the shutters. What a beautiful city it appears to be. Thank you. I have enjoyed these posts.

  5. I live on the property where Emily Whaley grew up.

  6. Lovely window boxes - and not so different from those composed in Nantucket! It's a joy to walk around a town or city where the residents care so much about adorning their homes with plants!

  7. Not so different from the charming window boxes in nantucket! A joy to walk through towns and cities with lovely adornments like that!

  8. Hello:
    What a visually very attractive post and what a superb experience to have had the opportunity to visit personally a garden which has been much written about. It looks to be absolutely charming.

    We are so disappointed to have lost you as a Follower of our blog and do hope that you will, perhaps, reconsider. We continue to enjoy 'Town and Country Mom'.

  9. That's the perfect size garden in my opinion...more than that an it's overwhelming. I love the window boxes...they are all my favorite. I have enjoyed your posts of Charleston.

  10. I've never heard the trio of words for a window box. I love it. All gorgeous.

  11. i love the 'thriller, spiller, and filler' adage
    and have used that as a guideline without
    even knowing it.

    i loved the secret garden and was amazed
    at the beauty of such a small space.

  12. I too read the little book about 11 years ago!I was in Charleston this Spring on the garden /home tour and low and behold her garden was the last garden we visited!I had tried to look up her address with no luck and as we were entering we read the write up from the tour and I could hardly believe it!Did you know the pond was shallow because at the time she had small children?

  13. OMG- love that book!!!! Thanks for the real life puctures of Mrs Whalley's garden!

  14. There is nothing more beautiful then many of those Charleston gardens. I also love each and every one of those window boxes. I may have to pin several of them if that is okay with you. I have a window box board on pinterest because I have deck boxes and am always looking for ideas on what to plant in them. All of your photos are so pretty!

  15. Oh wow, how truly wonderful. A visit to a "secret" garden. Thanks so much for sharing your pictures. I'm really feeling inspired by her bird bath! N.G.

  16. I have never had the chance to read this wonderful book but I will be putting it on my to-read list. All of the pictures that you have posted are just breathtaking. Thank you for this amazing post.

    My homepage:


  17. Beautiful blog. I read the book several years ago. Kept it, of course, and will re-read it this coming spring as you do. Thanks for this presentation.

  18. I was in Charleston in September, 2014 and walked by her house twice. The garden was not posted as open. Do you or any of the readers know if her daughter still opens it with any regularity?



Thanks for taking time to leave a comment! I love hearing your thoughts.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Please share!