Magnolia Plantation

Storytellers and craftsmen re-create life before and after freedom

Natalie Daise
Natalie Daise

Four storytellers with blacksmith, cooking and brickmaking demonstrations at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens will present life on a Southern plantation before and after the end of chattel slavery.

Following the demonstrations on Feb. 20 award-winning television actress and storyteller Natalie Daise will guide an audience through the development of Araminta Ross as she became the iconic abolitionist and Union Army spy known as Harriet Tubman.

Daise's 60-minute performance, "Becoming Harriet Tubman" at 4:30 p.m. in the Carriage House, will be a fundraiser for Charleston's proposed International African American Museum. Seating is limited to the invitation-only event.

"Life Before and After Freedom" will be held 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at the restored cabins that once housed enslaved workers who helped design and maintain Magnolia's gardens and later were garden guides following the Civil War.

On Feb. 20, Magnolia's award-winning cabin tour "From Slavery to Freedom" and the storytelling program and craft demonstrations at the cabins will be free with garden admission.

The program at the cabins includes Gullah storyteller Sharon Cooper Murray; children's storyteller Alada Shinault-Small; and Civil War storyteller James Brown of Charleston; and Dontavis Williams of York County, S.C., will portray a slave named Adam.

Craft demonstrations at the cabins include: blacksmithing, Gilbert Walker of Savannah, Ga.; outdoor cooking, Jerome Bias of Winston-Salem, N.C.; and brickmaking, Rodney Prioleau of Charleston.


ValentineValentine Chocolate & Camellia
Sweetheart Stroll
February 13 & 14 | 10am-3pm

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens invites you and that special person in your life to enjoy a Valentine Chocolate and Camellia Sweetheart Stroll through America’s oldest garden.

Sample a variety of tasty treats served Feb. 13-14 at chocolate stations throughout the sprawling gardens along the Ashley River. String musicians will serenade as couples embrace a love of chocolate in a colorful winter landscape.

While the children accompany their parents on the Chocolate Walk, children will be offered a separate interactive activity in the gardens.

The event is FREE with garden admission and children under 6 are free.


Magnolia Gardens poetry contest deadline March 31

Garden of RomanceMagnolia Plantation and Gardens will award prizes totaling more than $2,000 to poets – young and old – who best capture Magnolia as an idyllic "garden of romance."

Magnolia, America's last large-scale romantic-style garden, is seeking poems that emulate the sensibility of romantic poets, stir the emotions and celebrate the natural world. Entries will be judged in adult and young adult divisions.

The Rev. John Grimké Drayton is credited with adopting a romantic style of gardening at Magnolia after visiting Europe in the 1800s as the Romantic Movement swept Europe and America. In addition to garden design, the Romantic Movement touched many aspects of European and American society and inspired poetry.

The poems for the contest should match the style of poets William Wordsworth, Ashley Tennyson and Percy Bysshe Shelley. A Wordsworth quote inscribed on a small sign at Magnolia's entrance reads: "Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher."

Submissions to the third annual Garden of Romance Poetry Contest will be accepted online beginning Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. March 31 is the deadline to enter. Winners will be announced in April.

In the adult division, judges will award $500 for first place, $300 for second place, $200 for third place and $50 to five poets in the honorable mention category. A poem should not exceed 30 lines. Judges will only consider poems in the adult division that follow the romantic style and have the gardens at Magnolia as its theme.

In the young adult division – ages 12 to 17 – the judges will award an iPad for first place, $200 for second place, $100 for third place and an annual family membership to Magnolia to five poets in the honorable mention category. Poems in the young adult division can follow any style and must have the gardens at Magnolia as its theme.

Magnolia reserves the right to publish the winning poems and a selection of the entries.


Magnolia Gardens joins plant monitoring network

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a steward of the land for three centuries, has joined with other environmentally conscious gardens to monitor threats harmful insects and diseases pose to plants and food crops.

Magnolia has joined the Sentinel Plant Network that encourages public garden professionals, volunteers and visitors to detect and report serious plant pests and diseases.

Tori Luke
Tori Luke

Tori Luke, Magnolia's student and youth group coordinator, recently attended a regional meeting of the Sentinel Plant Network at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. She was trained to recognize signs and symptoms of potential threats. She will hold workshops at Magnolia to educate youth groups and others.

Luke will train "first detectors" to watch for Asian longhorn beetle, emerald ash borer, red palm weevil, sudden oak death and thousand cankers disease. "These are just a few of the significant pathogens and insects in the southern region that could devastate ornamental and native plants and food crops," she explained.

"Magnolia is involved because we are part of a larger picture," she said. "As stewards of the land, Magnolia and other gardens have an obligation to report and fix threats to the country's ecosystem."

"In the southeast, many states like North Carolina and Georgia have had occurrences of some serious intrusion," she said. "We want to be diligent about caring for our gardens. Magnolia currently has none of these pathogens, and we want to keep it that way."

The Sentinel Plant Network receives funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The network is also affiliated with the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) and the National Plant Diagnostic Network. Magnolia is an APGA member.

To learn more about threats to Lowocuntry flora, contact Luke at


Swamp Garden gets new naturalist for improved maintenance

Stacy Turner
Stacy Turner

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens has embarked on a multi-year environmental project to re-establish and diversify native plants varieties and rejuvenate the wildlife habitat in the 60-acre Audubon Swamp Garden.

As part of the effort, Stacy Turner has been named to a new position – Audubon Swamp Garden naturalist. The swamp is named for naturalist John James Audubon, who was a friend of the Drayton family that has owned Magnolia since the late 1670s.

A similar ecological project is underway at Magnolia's 120-acre impoundment and wildlife refuge along the Ashley River. The three-year project there also is designed to improve the wildlife habitat and water quality for wading birds and waterfowl and establish a variety of native plants.

In the Audubon Swamp, Turner has already begun removing unwanted vegetation, including cattails from the edges of the swamp to provide a better view of wood duck boxes, cypress and tupelo trees and to improve the habitat for water fowl.

Clearing the swamp of unwanted plants is not as simple as it might seem, said Turner, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology. "You have to look at the water flow to determine where to clear first. Not all of the vegetation is removed", he added. "It is a balance. You have to leave enough habitat for the wildlife. Ideally, you select the non-native plants to remove.”

Over time, Turner plans to introduce native grasses, shrubs and trees that include yaupon holly, lemon-scented fringe trees, coral honey suckle and crossvine. Each of these plants has a beneficial characteristic. Native Americans used the holly leaves to stimulate vision and crossvine attracts humming birds.

"I want natives that people don't usually see," Turner said. Lantana, which is scattered throughout the swamp, will be replaced with the American beautyberry, serviceberry and sparkleberry. "I would like to use natives in place of the typical plants that can sometimes be invasive," he said.

Turner has consulted with native plant vendors, a botanist at The Citadel and the Native Plant Society to select 20 initial native plants for the swamp and the best locations for them.

Diversifying the vegetation will improve the swamp garden's appeal to water fowl and migratory birds. "There is no point for the birds to nest if they can't find food to feed their young," he said. "Wildlife also helps to sustain the plants by distributing the seeds."



Land management project expanding Ashley River wildlife habitat

Land ManagementMagnolia Plantation and Gardens has begun a three-year project to improve the wildlife habitat and water quality in an impoundment and wildlife refuge along the Ashley River.

Tourists take a daily nature boat tour at Magnolia that travels on a 120-acre impoundment past alligators, wading birds, waterfowl and a variety of native plants. But that experience is being threatened by cattails, an invasive aquatic plant.

The first phase of the project involved spraying the cattail with an environmentally safe herbicide to remove the vegetation that is choking the impoundment.

Tom Johnson, Magnolia's executive director, said removing the cattails will improve the nature watching experience for wildlife enthusiasts.

Today, Magnolia is owned by the 12th and 13th generations of the Drayton family whose ownership of the 500-acre Magnolia began in the late 1670s. "This project is following through with the Drayton family's three hundred year stewardship of the land to preserve a healthy landscape for the next generation," Johnson said.

Robert C. Strange, an ecologist with Sabine & Waters, environmental land management consultants in Summerville, said removing the cattails will allow for other plants and aquatic life to flourish and improve the food source for fowl and fish.

Following the herbicide treatment the dried cattails will be burned between January and March. The impoundment will be drained and the nature boat channel will be dredged deeper. Three more water control devices will be installed to allow for improved water exchange between an adjacent 20-acre impoundment and the Ashley River.

The spoil from the dredging will be used to create additional islands in the larger impoundment, Strange said. These islands will create new opportunities for birds to build nests and roost in the coming years.

The work will not chase away the alligators. "The gators will stick around, and they will be fine," Strange added. "Magnolia has enough swamp, and they will go out in the river. They come, and they go."

Magnolia needs volunteers!

Volunteer aat Magnolia Plantation

As the fall season approaches, Magnolia is recruiting volunteers for the gardens, greenhouses, Nature Center, Audubon Swamp Garden, office support, greeters, docents, special events and youth programs. For more details, contact Kate White, volunteer coordinator, 843-296-4702,


Remembering Tina Gilliard


Eva Mae Gailliard

Eva Mae Gailliard has vivid memories of the night her grandmother Tina Gilliard, a revered employee at Magnolia in the early 1900s, died at her home in Charleston.

Gailliard of the Bronx, N.Y., and members of her family visited Magnolia in late May to learn more about their ancestor and to expand what is known of her.

A cabin near the ticket booth was once Gilliard's home. Today it is known as Tina Gilliard's Cabin. The family has changed the spelling of their last name to "Gailliard."

Gilliard was born two years after the Civil War at Middleton Place. She later came to work as a greeter at Magnolia.

She was so highly thought of that Magnolia named a camellia in her honor. She is one of three employees of African descent at Magnolia who have camellias named for them.

Around 6 p.m. on March 2, 1958, Gilliard announced metaphorically that her life was coming to an end.

As a five-year-old Eva Mae shared a bed with her grandmother, she asked her if she was tired?

"No, I am going to my father," the grandmother said.

"Can I go?" Eva Mae asked.

"When it is time you can meet my father," she promised.

Then she began to sing "I’m Going Home on the Morning Train." After a few verses, Tina Gilliard whispered, "Thank you father." Then she took her last breath.

"I got this warm feeling when they put her in the hearse."



Celebrate Black History Month
The following is an excerpt from Paul Porwoll's book Against All Odds: History of Saint Andrew's Parish Church, Charleston, 1706-2013, published in 2014 by WestBow Press. Copies are available at the Magnolia Plantation Gift Shop, St. Andrew's Parish Church, and online through WestBow Press and Amazon.

Rev. John Grimke Drayton
John Grimke Drayton

Ministry to the "Black Roses"

John Grimke Drayton is renowned for his vision that transformed Magnolia-on-the-Ashley into one of the world's horticultural masterpieces. Less known, but as remarkable, is Drayton's ministry to his "black roses," as he called the African Americans under his care, as an Episcopal priest.

In 1851 Drayton became rector of St. Andrew's Parish Church, established and built in 1706 just a few miles south of Magnolia. St. Andrew's was one of the earliest Episcopal churches that ministered to enslaved Africans. In 1845 two chapels in the parish were opened, one at Simon J. Magwood's plantation and the other on Nathaniel Russell Middleton's Bolton-on-the-Stono. Five years later a third chapel was begun at Magnolia.

Drayton had actually started his slave ministry much earlier, in the 1830s. He spent Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings in religious instruction with the adults and two evenings a week and Sunday mornings with the children. CONTINUE READING...

Magnolia Foundation support felt throughout Lowcountry South Carolina

The Magnolia Plantation Foundation, the non-profit arm of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, has awarded $90,000 in grants to 21 local and national organizations that support a variety of causes.

The foundation gave grants to selected non-profit groups involved with animal welfare, nature conservation, history, youth activities, education, horticulture and the arts.

This year's list of 21 grant recipients is the largest number of grants given to local and national non-profit groups since the foundation was established in 1988 by Magnolia's former owner the late John Drayton Hastie Sr., who wanted a way to give back to the Tri-county community.

Today, seven trustees, consisting of Hastie's children and grandchildren, direct the foundation. Grants for 2015 were recently approved during the trustees' annual meeting. The foundation was reorganized in 2004, two years after Hastie's death. Since then its giving has totaled about $90,000 annually.

"The foundation is delighted to carry on our father's legacy," said. J.D. Hastie Jr. "We expect that in the future, as Magnolia Gardens continues to grow, we will continue to support worthy causes that benefit our community."

Richard Hendry, a program officer with the Coastal Community Foundation in Charleston, said he was aware of Magnolia's foundation. He was surprised, however, at the amount of the contributions. "It is impressive," he added. "I thought the Magnolia Foundation supported the Magnolia property."

Hastie said the Magnolia Foundation's mission sets it apart from foundations like those that support Middleton Place and Drayton Hall, two other historic properties that flank Magnolia. "We hope more people will come to understand the differences between us and them."

"The Magnolia Foundation gives to the community and does not support the Magnolia property," Hastie said, "but the foundations at Drayton Hall and Middleton only support their properties, and they do not make gifts to the community."

Berkeley County First Steps, based in Hanahan, is a newcomer to the Magnolia Foundation's list of recipients. The foundation gave the state-funded, early childhood education program a grant for its literacy program. The Magnolia Foundation this year also awarded grants to the Charleston Animal Society in North Charleston, Francis R. Willis Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Summerville and Pet Helpers on James Island.

Joseph McGill

This year, the Slave Dwelling Project, founded by historic preservationist Joseph McGill, was awarded its second grant in two years. McGill said the grant will be combined with other contributions to match a $50,000 grant the project received from the S.C. Department of Archives and History.

"This donation puts us closer to matching the funds necessary for assessing slave dwellings in South Carolina," said McGill, who launched the slave dwelling project four years ago at Magnolia. "I am often asked how many extant slave dwellings exist in South Carolina," he said. "Four years into the slave dwelling project, that's a question I still can't answer. But this assessment will help us to begin to answer that question."

Recipients of Magnolia Foundation grants are:

  • Alliance Française de Charleston
  • Phillip Simmons Foundation
  • Rev. John Grimke Drayton Azalea Society
  • Boy Scouts of America Venturing Crew 1676
  • Coastal Carolina Camellia Society
  • West Ashley High School
  • Center for Birds of Prey
  • Keepers of the Wild
  • Marion County Animal Shelter
  • Humane Net
  • Native Plant Society
  • St. Andrews Parish Church
  • Clemson Master Gardeners
  • Historic Charleston Foundation
  • Coastal Conservation League
  • St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church
  • The Slave Dwelling Project
  • Berkeley County First Steps
  • Charleston Animal Society in North Charleston
  • Francis R. Willis Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
  • Pet Helpers on James Island


Tori Luke talks about Magnolia's youth programs


Magnolia Gardens, One of America's Most Beautiful
My Charleston Today 5.22.14

Magnolia Plantation on P&C TV



Atlanta Artist Ken Weaver Donates
Painting to Magnolia

Ken WeaverAtlanta artist and weaver Ken Weaver, whose work is among hundreds of private and public collections across the country, donated an oil painting Monday to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens of the first three camellias named at Magnolia.

The painting features the blooms of camellias named for Julia Drayton, Sara Hastie and the Rev. John Drayton, who develop the gardens at Magnolia beginning in 1840 and three decades later opened them to the public as a tourist attraction. Julia Drayton was Rev. John Drayton's wife. Sara Hastie was the wife of C. Norwood Hastie, a 20th century owner of Magnolia.

Weaver presented the painting to Magnolia's executive director Tom Johnson, who first became aware of Weaver's work while he was the chief horticulturist for the American Camellia Society in Fort Valley, Ga. Weaver's painting of a camellia hangs in the lobby of the main building at the Massee Lane Gardens.

Weaver, a life-long artist who has worked in a variety of mediums, has chosen in recent years to paint in watercolors. "I used to work in oil," Weaver said. "Maybe I'll go back to oil. People apply more value to oil." He is currently the financial officer for the Georgia Watercolor Society.

Weaver's wall hangings have been on display in prestigious galleries and venues around the United States, including the Lincoln Center in Dallas and the Renaissance Center in Detroit.

Weaver is easily bored if he's not fully engaged in a project. In January, while he was in a lull, Coca-Cola chemist Harry Waldrop, aware of Weaver's Massee Lane camellia painting, suggested he paint a camellia for Magnolia.

A phone call to Johnson set the stage for Weaver's next project that was completed in two weeks.

Johnson said, "We are honored that an artist of Ken Weaver's stature has chosen to contribute his time and talents to memorialize three important camellias in Magnolia's camellia collection. Visitors to Magnolia each fall and winter view our camellia garden, which is one of only five gardens in the United States designated as a Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society."

Johnson said Weaver's 22" by 28" framed painting, will be displayed in a prominent place at Magnolia.

For more information about Weaver, visit his website at:

Ken Weaver