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?

Act 1: The Charleston, or Comfortable Shoes Open the Gate to Happiness

Packing for a leisure trip is always a bit of trouble, isn’t it? Unless you have a rigid itinerary, it’s hard to know exactly what to bring and what to leave behind. I have fully embraced DaniBP’s “color story” philosophy for packing, but even with the simplicity that offers, there’s still margin for error.
And, for me, that error has most often been manifest in my shoe choices. This time, I got it right for both comfort and style. At least, I think I did. Steadfastly refusing to wear athletic shoes for non-athletic pursuits, I packed a pair of Tom’s espadrille-type shoes in a neutral color, a snappy navy-and-white striped pair of espadrilles, and a pair of pointed toe flats, just in case. In case of what, I’m not sure. At any rate, they looked cute and were good for a couple of miles of walking. And to see Charleston, one must walk. And walk.IMG_1298At times, you will walk on brick, as seen here on Church Street. IMG_0872 Later, you may find yourself walking on slate near the Battery.IMG_0875 The slate can be uneven.IMG_1224Old brick is practically guaranteed to trip you up if you’re wearing kitten heels or, heaven forbid, stilettos! IMG_1297The oldest manmade surface looks beautiful, with its multi-colored stones and time-worn texture, but cobblestones are tough on the feet.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Charleston, take my advice and pack several pairs of comfortable shoes. My secret tip, perfected in New York, is to switch heel heights throughout the day. I may start the day in a low heel, then, after several hours of walking, change to a flat, and then back to the low heel. I am convinced that this helps to alleviate some of the stress put on joints by hours of walking on hard surfaces. And, as we all know, comfortable feet open the gateway to happiness. Or something like that.
And speaking of gates, here are some of my favorite Charleston examples.IMG_0870
The Mister and I loved this Scottish admonition, found below a gate on one the Peninsula’s side streets. Can you figure it out? It’s quite clever, I think, and I’d love to replicate it for a garden gate. IMG_1286Boxwoods and creeping vines adorn many of the city’s wrought iron gates. IMG_0824 Our innkeeper, who was born and raised in Charleston, told us that she wanted to print a bumper sticker that states, Real Charlestonians don’t have Topiaries. Too funny.IMG_0826 I loved this gate, although I would have to paint that door, if it were my house.IMG_0839These gates welcome worshippers to the First Baptist Church of Charleston, a congregation that was formed in Kittery, Maine in 1682 and moved to the Holy City in 1696. The current sanctuary was designed by architect Robert Mills and was built in 1822.IMG_0841I loved the monograms, left over from a Saturday wedding, and I plan to borrow this idea when the time comes for Big, Middle or Little to tie the knot. IMG_0855Hydrangeas, ferns, ivies, and boxwoods form the backbone of many Charleston gardens, softening the structures and offering welcoming pockets of green throughout the city. IMG_0861This gate opened up to a wide yard, an uncommon feature for a downtown Charleston house. Of course, it’s painted the ubiquitous color known as Charleston Green. The legend goes that following the Civil War, or the Late Unpleasantness, if you prefer, that the federal government sent gallons of paint for Charlestonians to use to spruce up their devastated hometown. Supposedly, the paint was all black, and Charlestonians bucked at using the so-called Yankee paint. So they added yellow to create “Charleston Green.” Depending on the source, the recipe is either nine or 10 parts black to one part yellow for a true Charleston Green. Of course, nowadays Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams have their own formulas.  Either way, it’s an awfully good color against the red brick and white frame houses found in the city.IMG_0868More ferns, azaleas and myrtle fill this charming garden, and look at all that velvety moss.  IMG_1284 I love this classic gate, opening to a narrow garden shared by neighbors. So elegant.
Not so elegant, my feet.  Remember, pack comfortable shoes, but don’t forget the Band-Aids.
And now, for the riddle of the gate,
Be Ye Man or Be Ye Woman,
Be Ye Sune (Soon) or Be Ye Late,
Be Ye Guan (Going) or Be Ye Cumin (Coming),
Be Ye Sure to Shut This Gate. 
But you figured that out already, right?

Overture: The Charleston

In early June, the Mister and I headed to what is generally regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, Charleston, South Carolina.  Only three short hours away on the Atlantic coast, Charleston welcomes guests with a seductive blend of history, classic architecture, beautiful gardens, innovative cuisine, fine arts and much-heralded Southern hospitality. IMG_0789 Anticipation is part of the fun for me, so with DaniBP as my inspiration, I planned my Charleston “color story” of coral, navy and white. 
As I’ve mentioned before, the Mister enjoys traveling the back roads whenever possible, so since he was kind enough to arrange the trip, I planned our travel through peach orchards and soy bean and corn fields. At last, we arrived at our first stop, timed perfectly for Sunday brunch.IMG_0802We pulled into Aiken, a charming Southern town in the middle of South Carolina’s horse country, and arrived at the stately Willcox  Hotel. IMG_0805Built in the late 1800s as a haven for Yankees seeking warmth and a welcoming society, the Willcox has hosted Winston Churchill, Harold Vanderbilt, Elizabeth Arden and W.R. Grace. Even more famously, the Prince of Wales allegedly was turned away with regret during the week of the Master’s golf tournament! IMG_0800With a warm and clublike atmosphere, the lobby of The Willcox was quite bustling, but I managed to get this shot of one of the fireplaces, a bit of a lonely place on this warm June day.IMG_0796While I went to freshen up, and admittedly to see if I might get a peek in any of the guest rooms, the Mister promptly ordered me a Bloody Mary. It was ice cold and spicy hot, and made the people-watching and brunch-tasting all the more enjoyable.IMG_0799  I ordered an egg-white omelet with asparagus, spinach and goat cheese, all South Carolina-grown products, as is almost everything on the menu. The Mister had the hamburger, which was served on brioche and topped with onion-and-bacon jam. After brunch, the Mister and I took a walk around downtown Aiken, a charming town with wide streets and bubbling fountains. Lots of cute shops beckoned, but as is typical in small Southern towns, everything was closed on Sunday.IMG_0809 I was hoping to “pop in” on Bevy, who wrote the blog It’s a Golden Day and is still active on Pinterest. If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll forgive me for not calling first, Bevy! I will be back! (Also, I suppose  I should credit the Bloody Mary for the sassiness of my pose!)
After a walk around Aiken, we headed straight for Charleston, where the Mister had booked a room at the Cabell House, only steps away from the Battery, offering picturesque views of the harbor.
IMG_1301 IMG_1300The Cabell House sits on Church Street. The owner and innkeeper grew up in the house, and after spending years in Boston, returned to Charleston, purchased her siblings’ shares of the home, and made some slight renovations to accommodate modern travelers.IMG_0811 The Cabell House is not furnished with the original pieces, although some of the original artwork remains. After settling in and enjoying a glass of iced tea with lots of mint and lemon, we set out for a walk to the Battery and then up Bay Street.IMG_0813  The humidity and heat that typically pounce on Charleston’s summer guests were mysteriously absent.  The skies were clear, and the temperatures were in the low 80s. Delightful.IMG_0815For dinner, we settled on Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar, where we started with fried green tomatoes topped with pimento cheese. Then, I had the best shrimp and grits ever, made with roasted tomatoes, tasso ham and green onions. The Mister enjoyed fresh grouper with haricot verts and lemon butter browned potatoes. All deemed delicious. IMG_1226The showstopper, however, was the restaurant’s coconut pie, which was more of a custard or chess pie with toasted coconut. Thankfully, we had a pleasant evening to walk back to our charming room.
Have you visited Charleston? Would you like to hear more? I hope so, because there’s more to come!

Silver Shells, for a Few Clams

Every now and then, I get a little bit obsessed about some thing. Maybe I saw it on Pinterest.
kaboodle silver shellKaboodle
Or in a catalog.
pottery barn shellsPottery Barn
Or in a shop, or even in someone’s house.
silver-conch-shell from completely coastal                                                  Completely Coastal

And so I begin to see if can find the object of my obsession. In this case,  it was silver shells for the dining room. 
Of course, with just a few quick clicks,  I can find what I was looking for and with a few more clicks, it can be mine. Or not. Because somewhere in the midst of those  mouse clicks, my brain begins to click. The first click usually sounds like That’s it! Where’s my credit card? The second click says You do not need more stuff to dust and store. The third click, which comes quickly behind the second says, How much? Wait, that’s like a great dinner out or a cut and highlights or—lacrosse cleats. Then, sometimes, the fourth (and cutest) click pipes up and says, I bet you could make something similar. It might be kind of fun. And that’s how I came to find myself in Hobby Lobby looking for sterling silver spray paint. Krylon sterling silver paint
Enjoying my collection of shells throughout the house, I decided some sterling silver shells would be perfect for the dining room. I didn’t want to paint any of my collected shells (sentimental, I guess), so I bought a bag of mixed shells from T.J. Maxx.
bag of shells
The sack yielded lots of scallop shells, a few whelks, a few conch, one nautilus, some quahogs, and some clam shells, all in varying sizes. I spread them out on newspaper in the drive, and sprayed them well. I don’t know what is in that sterling silver paint, but it was like but-tah. Seriously.  I so wanted to paint something else just for the pleasure of watching the paint coat and cover. Thankfully, I was able to control myself  because, of course, I had to flip the shells over and spray the other side an hour later.
Phone photos really don’t do them justice, as they turned out great. The paint unifies them, and at the same time highlights the beautiful textures of each. I think these could be spectacular for a beachside (or even beach-themed) party or event.
Total cost for this little project?
Not a lot of clams, around $12.

Have you taken on any fun, do-it-yourself projects this summer?

I’m linking up to Savvy Southern Style's Wow Us Wednesdays, to Stone Gable's Tutorial Tips and Tidbits, and to At the Picket Fence Inspiration Friday, where you can see tons of amazing projects and tasty recipes!
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