The pasted advertisement reads:
Universally conceded to be
Most Beautiful Garden in the World
NEAR CHARLESTON, S.C.
‘Yes, found at last,—the earthly paradise! Here by slow currents of the silvery stream It smiles, a shining wonder, a fair dream, A matchless miracle to mortal eyes: What whorls of dazzling color flash and rise From rich azalean flowers, whose petals teem With such harmonious tinits as brightly gleam In sunset rainbows arched o’er perfect skies! But see, beyond these blended blooms of fire, Vast tier on tier the lordly foliage tower Which crowns the centuried oaks’ broad crested calm: Thus on bold beauty falls the shade of power; Yet beauty still unquelled, fulfills desire, Unfolds her blossoms, and outbreathes her balm!’
—Paul Hamilton Hayne. (About 1870)
FOR about two hundred and twenty-five years the estate named ‘Magnolia-on-the-Ashley,’ but not better known to the public as ‘Magnolia Gardens,’ has continuously been owned by the Drayton family and their descendants. The colonial mansion of brick was destroyed by fire in the revolutionary period, and a second dwelling was burned during the war between the States.
The old steps of this second residence now lead up to the present cottage—the springtime residence of the owner. A short time after inheriting this plantation, then comprising 1,872 acres, the Reverend John Grimke Drayton, owing to failing health, was ordered by his physician to spend his life in the open air. He conceived the idea of creating a garden, and thus was commenced the wonderland whose unrivalled beauty today is a monument to his exquisite taste and rare poetic feeling. The first plants of the species known as ‘Azalea Indica’ were planted by Mr. Drayton in 1843. These plants were imported into this country from the Orient to Philadelphia, Pa. The climate of Pennsylvania proved to be too severe for them, and Mr. Drayton was requested to try them in South Carolina. The garden, comprising 25 acres, reveals the success of the experiment. In addition to the immense collection of azaleas, there is a very valuable collection of the ‘Camellia Japonica.’ Probably nowhere else may be found as may different varieties of these beautiful plants and flowers which Mr. Drayton imported from foreign countries.
This estate took its name from its many fine specimens of the ‘Magnolia Grandiflora.” In early May the bloom of these trees adds an aftermath of loveliness tress and shrubs there is a specimen of the California Redwood. The parent tree was blown down in a cyclone and the present tree is one of its branches, having sprung up from the recumbent trunk; also there is a magnificent specimen of the Torreya Taxis Taxifolia, a Spanish Cypress, Japanese Cryptomeria, etc.
When phosphate rock was discovered, Mr. Drayton sold most of his acreage to mining companies. There are heavy deposits of this rock underlying the garden and lawn.
In front of the preset residence, skirted by magnificent live oaks planted when the estate was young—a marked contrast to the exotic bloom and riot of color of the garden—lies the lawn—the Englishlike dignity of which is a restful feature. This lawn is traversed by an avenue of live oaks equal in stateliness to itself.
The marble on the front of the Drayton tomb was carved in 1795 by Jardella, an Italian whom Robert Morris, of Philadelphia (who largely financed the American Revolution), ‘imported’ into this country to carve the adornments for his new home (never completed), designed by L’Enfant, and known as ‘Morris’ Folly.’ This and its companion piece, owned by Mr. Shriver, of Bel Air, Md., were to have been placed over the doorways. They were probably the earliest and finest pieces actually carved in America. The crack in the marble is a mute memento of the great earthquake of 1886.
In Century Magazine, July, 1921
‘Everyone who goes to Charleston in the spring soon or late visits Magnolia Gardens. A painter of flowers and tress, I specialize in gardens, and freely assert that none in the world is so beautiful as this. Even before the azaleas come out, it consigns the Boboli at Florence, the Cinnamon Gardens at Colombo, Conception at Malaga, Versailles, Hampton Court, the Generaliffe at Granada, and the La Mortala to the category of ‘also ran.’
‘Nothing so free and gracious, so lovely and wistful, nothing so richly colored, yet so ghost-like, exists, planted by the sons of men. It is a kind of paradise which has wandered down, a miraculously enchanted wilderness.
‘Brilliant with azaleas, or magnolias, it centers around a pool of dreamy water, overhung by tall trunks wanly festooned with the gray Florida moss. Beyond anything I have ever seen , it is other-worldly. And I went there day after day, drawn as one is drawn in youth by visions of the Ionian Sea, of the East, or the Pacific Isles. I used to sit paralyzed by the absurdity of putting brush to canvas in front of that dream pool. I wanted to paint of it a picture like that of the fountain by Hellen, which hangs in the Luxembourg. But I knew I never should.’ And again he says, ‘It’s perfect. This is the most beautiful spot in the world.'”