South Carolina is home to many romantic gardens, and one visit to Middleton gardens is enough to see why Middleton gardens is one of the most visited Charleston gardens (and a popular destination for weddings throughout the year). It’s located along the Ashley River on 65 acres of sprawling land of Middleton Place, a former plantation turned National Historic Landmark and home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens.
Photography is by myself, unless stated otherwise.
Plantations in Charleston SC
Middleton Place is one of the rare surviving plantations in Charleston SC, surviving both the American Revolution and Civil War, as well as a few economic and natural disasters. The plantation is the birthplace of Arthur Middleton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
If you’re planning a visit to Charleston and searching for Charleston gardens to visit, look no further — the Middleton gardens are a short drive from downtown Charleston, and are guaranteed to be in bloom throughout the year. The Middleton gardens are vast, covering over 65 acres of grassy hills and winding paths and feature a variety of flowers, trees, wild animals and artistic sculptures. The view itself from the gardens is absolutely gorgeous as well as it overlooks the sprawling Ashley river.
The Middleton gardens, which Henry Middleton designed in 1741, reflect the elegant yet classic style that was popular in Europe and England into the early part of the 18th century and now seen in countless Charleston gardens. He was inspired by the designs of André Le Nôtre, the master of classical garden design who laid out the gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte and the Palace of Versailles. Geometry and balance; unique vistas, inspiring focal points and quaint waterways were all part of the garden’s design.
Henry Middleton’s original gardens were designed with distinct paths and winding walkways, and planted with unique trees and shrubs, many of which are trimmed to appear as green living walls. A walk along the gardens paths is not only peaceful but also much like an art walk as beautiful sculptures are scattered throughout the long winding paths, ponds and canals. Of all the plantations in Charleston SC, Middleton Place seamlessly blends the structured style of European gardens with the natural beauty of the Lowcountry, with a rich history, inspiring architecture, meticulously designed gardens and gorgeous coastal views.
During our visit we learned that the Middleton gardens evolved as future generations of the Middleton family made contributions over time. Arthur Middleton befriended French botanist, André Michaux, who is thought to have brought the first camellias in America to Middleton Place. Governor Henry Middleton, Arthur’s son, continued to plant more camellias and introduced tea olives and crepe myrtles. Williams Middleton expanded the gardens further, giving them a distinct romantic feel, and was first to bring azaleas to the plantation – which are now over 100,000 in number.
In the early 20th century, Heningham Lyons Ellett Smith, wife of Middleton descendant J.J. Pringle Smith, restored the landscape that had been largely neglected for nearly six decades following the Civil War. Her creative efforts led the Garden Club of America to describe Middleton gardens in 1940 as the “most important and interesting garden in America.” That title remains to this day.
Middleton Place holds Guided Garden Tours daily from 10:00am – 3:00pm. Each tour last approximately 30 minutes.
Middleton Place SC
While visiting Middleton Place, you can take a historical tour of the plantation which focuses on the contributions of the Middleton family whom lived there as well as the enslaved Africans and African Americans who lived and worked there. The Middleton Place house museum was built in 1755 as the gentlemen’s guest quarters, and is the only structure still standing of the original three-building residential complex. The story tells that the buildings were all burned by Union troops two months before the end of the Civil War. The last standing building was the least burned and restored to provide living quarters for the family. The house tour gives you insight into the Middleton family and the slaves that helped maintain the plantation.
I highly recommend touring Middleton Place to discover more about the contributions of the Middelton family and enslaved Africans and African Americans. During the tour you can learn about the history of the land, the surrounding gardens, as well as the stories of the people who designed, created and maintained the 18th-century rice plantation.
The Inn at Middleton Place
For those searching for a luxurious escape, overlooking the Ashley River and nestled among tall pines and centuries old live oak trees, awaits the award-winning Inn at Middleton Place. The Inn offers guests a beautiful retreat from a hectic world, and is only a short drive to downtown Charleston. Known for its modern, environmentally conscious design, the Inn blends nearly seamlessly with its natural environment and continually reconnects guests with their stunning surroundings. Floor to ceiling windows, cypress wood paneling, seasonal fireplaces, and an opportunity to explore the landscape along the historic Ashley River are just a few of the reasons to retreat at the Inn. Guests of the Inn receive complimentary admission to Middleton Place National Historic Landmark and surrounding Middleton gardens for the length of their stay.
The Inn at Middleton Place
The Inn at Middleton Place was completed 35 years ago and quickly claimed the highest honor from the American Institute of Architects in 1987. The Inn is considered the masterwork of architect W. G. Clark. It sits picturesquely on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Ashley River as it was Clark’s desire “to make a building that truly belonged to its place, rather than just being sited on it.” In 2021, The Inn was gifted to the Middleton Place Foundation, a nonprofit educational trust and is currently in the final phase of rejuvenation, embracing the original award-winning design to create many more decades of memories for new and returning guests. Proceeds from the Inn support the foundation’s mission to inspire, educate and enact positive change through an understanding of American history.
Middleton Place Tour
The historic preservation work and interpretation of history at Middleton Place focuses on major contributions of the Middleton family as well as the enslaved Africans and African Americans who lived and worked here. From the early Colonial period through the Revolution, the early Republic, the Civil War era and beyond, they made a mark on the land, the colony, state and nation. As part of Middleton Place’s mission to share the stories of the enslaved people who made a way of life and an economic empire possible, the Middleton Place Foundation conducted a 10-year research project to reveal the names and stories of the more than 2,800 enslaved people owned by the Middleton family from 1738 to 1865. A permanent exhibit in Eliza’s House, a book, and documentary film explore the lives, families, and contributions of some seven generations of enslaved people.
Middleton Place Farm and Stable Yards
While touring the plantation you can also get a glimpse of 18th and 19th century working plantation life in the stable yards where skilled enslaved artisans made tools, pottery, clothing and tended an array of livestock.
Middleton Place Restaurant: Seasonal, Local Low Country Fare
If you’re at Middleton Place for the afternoon, I definitely recommend stopping at Middleton Place restaurant, which is inspired by the recipes and spirit of former resident chef and renowned southern chef Edna Lewis. The Middleton Place restaurant offers traditional low country favorites made from fresh, local and seasonal ingredients and includes fried chicken, she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and collard greens.
A more formal dinner menu includes fresh-caught local seafood, organic chicken, select cuts of meat, and seasonal vegetables. The on-site farm and gardens serves to provide the restaurant with a generous amount of the produce served. The restaurant is a must and aside from the delicious food and cocktails, guests can enjoy a beautiful view of the Mill pond and sprawling hillsides.
The Restaurant is open for lunch Monday-Saturday from 11:00 – 3:00pm and for brunch Sunday 11:00am 3:00pm for visitors to Middleton Place and Middleton gardens. Reservations are not required for lunch. The Restaurant is open for dinner 5:00-8:30pm Wednesday-Saturday. Reservations are required for dinner.
Charleston Plantation: Middleton Place Tour
General admission gives visitors access to the plantation stable yards and Middleton gardens, while the museum house tour is an additional fee. Keep in mind that the plantation has an award-winning restaurant and an Inn with 55 rooms on the property. I recommend allowing a minimum two hours to tour the house and gardens.
Middleton Place Hours
Open Daily, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Christmas Eve 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
Christmas Day Closed
General Admission includes access to 65 acres of the formally landscaped Middleton gardens, a look at 18th and 19th century plantation life with exhibits, live displays, artisans and historic animal breeds in the stable yards and daily outdoor tours.