Lycoris Lore

One of the more stunning plants that graces historic #Charleston each year is the Lycoris Radiata. This perennial is native to Japan, and was introduced to America in the 1850’s and thrives in warm Southern climates. The flower contains toxins that are potentially harmful and to the Japanese, it became a symbol of death, which is especially ironic considering that the blooms are prevalent in Charleston graveyards. Another irony is that because it re-emerges from bulbs year after year, that among its notable nicknames is Resurrection Lily. Most Charlestonians call it Red Spider Lily because of its dramatically protruding stamens, but because it also comes up typically in September, it is also known as Hurricane Lily. Like many plants in the Amaryllis family, the Lycoris Radiata blooms on top of an empty stalk after foliage has died away to expose its radiant color, and for that, the flowers are also known as Naked Ladies. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Hurricane Lilies

Hydrating History

The question of safe drinking water was historically a problem in #Charleston. Natural springs were virtually non-existent on the peninsula, so the initial source came from shallow wells. The sand and clay substrata made it easy to find ground water in an city that gets as much as 60 inches of rain each year. But the wells dug typically in backyards within a growing, tightly-packed  urban area were very susceptible to bacteria intrusion from the days in which outdoor bathrooms, or privies, allowed waste to be dumped into the same soil strata. People did not understand this completely until science improved by the late 19th century, so up until then, typhoid fever and cholera were constant companions of Charlestonians and killed many over the years. The safest water, until artesian aquifers were finally tapped into by 1879, came from rain trapped in attic vats and outdoor masonry pools, called cisterns. Cisterns became a common part of the urban landscape, and during the Civil War, buildings with the largest reservoirs of rain water were used as soldiers’ hospitals. The concept is still very similar to the landscape pools still gracing houses such as this one on Laurens Street, and although purely an atheistic addition these days, is a reminder of the methods used to gather safe water long ago.

Jeopardized Joe

The Joseph Manigault House is an elegant museum house in the Wraggborough section of historic #Charleston. The grand house was considered a garden villa when it was finished in 1803 in an elegant Adam style, and originally overlooked open lands that now are crowded with buildings. Located North of Calhoun Street in what was once considered the “neck” of the Charleston peninsula, the house and the area fell on hards times after the Civil War, when much of the area was abandoned and became a low-income section where housing projects and inexpensive commercial buildings took over the landscape. The Manigault House was converted into an apartment building but the early 1900’s, and was in dilapidated condition and considered for demolition when the Standard Oil Company bought the property in 1922, and converted part of the house as a filling station for the new wave of automobiles. Put up for auction in 1933, the Manigault House was purchased by the Charleston Museum, which raised money for its restoration during World War II by leasing it out as a USO club for women in the military. Eventually restored, the Manigault House is famed for its open floor plan and elegant gardens today. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”Joseph Manigault House

Historic Hideaways

One of the best reasons to walk historic #Charleston is that many of the city’s most scenic treasures might be completely missed when driving by. There are numerous charming gardens visible through picturesque wrought iron gates along streets not commonly traveled such as Gibbes Street, Lamboll Street, Hasell Street and lower Church Street. This particular scene on lower Church is facing in the same direction as the one-way thoroughfare is driven, so it would be almost impossible to see while driving, yet is a breath-taking pause on a leisurely stroll through the old city. There are also wonderful alleys, historic graveyards, and several scenic greens and parks in the older part of Charleston that are meant to be observed on foot. And what makes the city even more appealing to those who walk it is the fact that the historic areas are contiguous an blend into each other from Ashley to Cooper river on each side, and from White Point Garden to the upper peninsula. The city is safe, clean, and fairly compact, with the historic district comprising about four square miles. <img.src=”Charleston Sightseeing” alt=”Hidden Historic Gems

Frenetic Fritillary

A repeat visitor to #Charleston gardens in the late Summer and Fall is the radiant Gulf Fritillary. This creature is part of the insect family known as Lepidopterans, from the Greek “lepi”, which means scale, and includes butterflies and moths. The wings of the Fritillary are filled with fine scales that absorb heat from the sun for energy, as well as providing a visual attraction for mating, and a natural warning to potential predators with the various patterns of rings and spots mimicking poisonous plants. The Fritillary migrates north from the Gulf of Mexico each year after emerging from cocoons in the Spring, and will typically only live a matter of weeks before mating and restarting the life cycle. They feed on flowers by probing with a needle-like probiscis and are usually attracted to bright reddish/orange colors, so planting Pentas or Lantana this time of year is a good Fritillary magnet. <img.src=”Charleston Nature and Wildlife” alt=”Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Gorgeous Greens

The Village of Harleston was created asa suburb of #Charleston in the 1770’s, the name coming from the large tract of high land that bordered the Ashley River, known as Harleston Green. A handful of homes were erected in the late 18th century by planters who wanted to escape the summer sizzle, but the open breezy meadows were largely used for recreation by a large contingent of Scottish merchant immigrants, who brought with them the new game called golf. Whacking away with odd-shaped clubs with names like the niblick, they swatted balls made of sheep and goat skin into appointed holes. And thus the first golf association in America was formed by 1786 as the Harleston Green Golf Club. Today, the green spaces in what’s now called Harleston Village are as beckoning, but the only thing that swings these days are the gates to the garden areas that replaced former fairway. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Harleston Green”

Callimachus’ Contribution

The Acanthus Mollis is a common sight in #Charleston #gardens in the Summer. This non-native perennial comes from the Middle East, and the name comes from Greek, meaning “soft thorns” referring to the tiny thorns in its sepals. The most interesting visual aspect of the acanthus is its drooping flowers in combinations of purple and white on vertical stalks. According to the ancient architectural historian Vitruvius, it was the beauty of these flowers rising around a woman’s grave that inspired Greek sculptor Callimachus (circa 5th century BC) to create what is now considered the highest order of column capitals – the Corinthian Order. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Acanthus Mollis

Spectacular Spectrum

Historic #Charleston is a photographer’s delight, with an abundance of classic architectural shapes, statuesque trees, glistening iron gates, manicured gardens and everywhere, dazzling colors made by man and nature. The exotic plants that have been introduced to Charleston over the centuries from around the world offer rich hues of brilliant blooms. The storied buildings are a visual marvel as well, with exterior walls splashed in shades of orange, raspberry, lime, indigo, canary, mustard and plum. In the city;s heyday after the American Revolution, pigmentation of buildings became a source of pride and an indication of wealth, with vivid colors created from minerals and compounds that were initially added to layers of wet stucco and brushed over bricks. Today, many of those historic colors have been reproduced in latex, making the application a much easier and lasting process and a look that visitors will not soon forget. <img.src=”Charleston SC” alt=”Colors”

Mystical Mimosas

The stunning flower of this summer-blooming tree was    first introduced to #Charleston in 1785, with the arrival of French botanist Andre Michaux, who brought a number of exotic species to America, including the Crepe Myrtle and Camellia. Although not a true Mimosa, the name adds flair to a tree which is actually related to soybeans, chickpeas, and peanuts, and who scientific name is a mouthful – Albizia Julibrissin. Michaux was royal gardener under Louis XVI, but instead of losing his head to the guillotine as did his former employer, he was sent by the French Revolutionary government to America as an naturalist emissary, and would find a home in Charleston for more than ten years, exploring the Southeast for other species, such as the one from the mountains he named the Rhododendron. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Mimosa Tree”

Scenic Streets

Orange Street gets its name from an 18th century Orange Grove that existed there, and from which oranges were grown for export until a hard winter in the 1740’s killed most of  the trees and the land was sold as lots where houses are now. The well-drained, sand and clay soil is still ideal for growing, and the street is typical of #HistoricCharleston with his palate of colors from a variety of native and imported plants and trees.<img src=”Orange Street” alt=”Charleston Gardens”>