Historic Charleston Foundation’s Festival of Houses & Gardens

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Spring looks good on Charleston. But, then again, everything does.

I saw the Holy City at the pinnacle of her glory last week during the Festival of Houses & Gardens, just as the wisteria, camellias, and azaleas were bursting with vibrancy.

The festival, now in its 72nd year, is sponsored by the Historic Charleston Foundation and runs through April 18.

You can see Southern charm, and the local piazzas-that’s Charlestonian speak for porches-in the full bloom of the season.

Here are some tips on how to do it right.

The Hotel Indigo, right over the bridge in Mount Pleasant, is less than a ten minute drive from the heart of the city. Brand new as of last summer, the hotel has the chicest palmetto tree lined pool  and chartreuse sofas.

Pool at the Hotel Indigo.

It’s dog friendly and its eatery, Eliza’s Bar + Kitchen, offers the best Belgian waffle this side of Brussels. If you want to eat like a local, try their stoned ground grits.

For the best sweet tea, another Southern staple, go to Magnolia’s on East Bay Street.

Most of the Charleston houses on the tour are along a walking route, allowing you to soak up the local flavor and take lots of snaps as this city must be one of the most instagram-able places on Earth.

After finishing at the Joseph Manigault House, an imposing 1803 structure with one of the most stunning chandeliers I’ve ever seen, I headed down Meeting Street to check out perhaps the most charming Charlestonian traditions: window boxes brimming with florals.

Joseph Manigault House, one of many historic homes included in Charleston’s Festival of Houses & Gardens.
Chandelier in Joseph Manigault House.

Window Boxes galore in Charleston in spring …

The Washington Heyward House on Church Street gets its distinctive moniker from George Washington’s stay there in 1791. Today its lush garden, including rows of pink tulips, is a must see this time of year.

Garden of Heyward-Washington House.

Keep heading toward the water, and you’ll see the Edmonston-Alston House and experience breezes on the piazza, a mainstay of the Southern aristocracy to mitigate that sweltering humidity, probably Charleston’s only flaw.

A little outside the city are three plantations that define Lowcountry beauty, all within a short drive of one another.

Boone Hall, the destination of Blake Lively’s wedding, is set behind a canopy of Southern Live Oaks dating back to the 1740s.

Boone Hall.

Boone Hall has been a Hollywood favorite as the set for many projects, including, “Queen,” with Halle Berry.

I saw azalea blooms as big as my head at Magnolia Plantation, set on the Ashley River, as well as several alligators sunning themselves on the bank.

John James Audubon visited Magnolia before the Civil War  to collect waterfowl  specimens for his paintings.

Magnolia Plantation.

Lastly, Middleton Place is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in the country, and an even greater treasure: the Middleton Oak, a tree said to be nearly a thousand years old.

Camellia at Middleton Place.

While you’re meandering the plantation’s acclaimed camellia allees, you’ll encounter the Wood Nymph, a stunning sculpture, rumored to have been buried during the Civil War to protect her from Yankee aggression.

Wood Nymph at Middleton Place.

The plantation’s assortment of horses, farm animals, landscaping, and reflection pools will leave you truly intoxicated.

But, just in case, you can always top off your day with a Southern gentleman called  Jack Daniels.


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