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.
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.Next, 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. The 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. 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. Most of the color in early June came from the French blue hydrangeas.Designed 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. Liriope 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. Much of the old part of Charleston is well-shaded, so caladiums and sweet potato vine are popular window box additions.I love how some gardeners match their flora to their house and shutter colors and how others plant vibrant contrasting colors. Yes, that’s a hydrangea in the window box above! The importance of texture can’t be overstated. I love all the greens against the old red brick in the Charleston Green window box. The 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! Exuberant petunias steal the show here. Red caladiums and begonia add a bold contrast to the black window trim and shutters.A profusion of pinks and lavenders brings out the softer shades of this red brick.
I had to get a picture of the popular decal that says Gut Fishes Not Houses!
Do you have a favorite?