Travel Destination: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

 
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Location Description:

One of America's most beautiful gardens according to Travel + Leisure Magazine and one of the oldest gardens in the United States.

 
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Personal Experience:

Seemed like an eternity since a photographer friend of mine suggested I visit the Plantation while I was down here. Now here I was, driving down the winding road covered in a canopy of tree branches towards a new destination. Even with my own nervousness of going off on my own to an unknown place. Yet I also remembered a few years ago being nervous to take a 30 minute drive by myself to the shores of Lake Michigan to take some photos when I wanted to just stay indoors. Uncertain about my future and still had a negative mindset about my Asperger's Syndrome always holding me back. Yet it was important for me to get out of my comfort zone and ended up being happy I did. Just as I knew I would enjoy this side trip very much.

The rush of the wind through the open windows filled the car with the scent of fresh air that made me calm as I made my turn through the entrance to Magnolia Plantation. I was told it was best to visit during the spring, but I didn't feel like waiting for that time to come. Especially since I knew autumn was the perfect time to pass by the Great Smoky Mountains on the way to the Charleston area. I couldn't pass on that opportunity! Being among nature always seems to relax my nerves and senses, especially when there are only a few people around me. It feels relaxing. This was a popular destination full of tourists, but it's not as if I was going to a loud concert.

 

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The Garden Center

Regardless, I had already parked and was walking towards the ticket booth when I ran into a small cabin on the side. A sign displayed that this was the Gilliard Garden Center, named after Tena Gilliard. She was a greeter that lived within the cabin that was still standing and a strong dedication to the gardens. On the sign showed an image of her dating back to the early-mid twentieth century. There was quite a lot of growth, both flowers and overarching trees with the latter providing shade from the sun's heat and could already tell there were many flowers in the back.

I didn't expect there to be some flowers indoors too however, as I stepped into the small cabin. The place had only two rooms, with a fireplace in the center and plants on the shelf and mantle. The floorboards creaked as people shuffled about in the small space.


 
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Stepping through the doorway I was met by a tiny courtyard full of potted plants and flowers galore, each containing their own name tags with information about each species of plants. I took my time around to view each one as tourists and workers made their rotation examining each and every one of them.


 
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Of course, the day was young and there was quite a lot to explore! There were a number of tours offered, but I did have two places in mind: The Audubon Swamp Walk and the basic garden walk. Each will let me take my time and absorb the surroundings. Feel a part of this unique environment I was not familiar with. What did I start off with first?

 

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The Garden Walk

Despite it being autumn, there were still quite a lot of growth in what felt like a garden maze. I could see on the map the paths winding all around towards different points of interest dotted along the way. Each feeling important to see. All of this was on the east side of the plantation grounds. From the central driveway towards the manor itself to the river that winds around it and into the swamp area.

I had no idea which direction I was heading towards when I ran into a small courtyard with some floral blooming and a few religious statues. In this instance I felt that when Spring came along this place would have an even more fairy-tale type of feeling than it already did. A secret garden full of hidden discoveries for those willing to explore. The biggest part of it? How quiet the place is in comparison to other popular locations. One could really feel in tune to the place. Really get that laid back immersion that the South is well known for. If I had found a bench in the gardens I might have sat there for hours if I had the time. Closest to that was a gazebo in the middle of this little garden maze of pathways.


 
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Eventually the trees cleared as I gazed my sights on the plantation manor itself that towered above me. Nearby was the view of the entirely cleared grounds and a small courtyard entrance way. It was truly a sight to behold with that classic southern style of architecture that dominated the landscape.


 
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Since it was getting near to noon it was about time to head back to the front towards a concessions stand for a nice light meal, with the tree canopy providing relief from what sunlight peaks through. What I did not expect was to find a peacock roaming about the tables and people. A few threw bits of their lettuce before one of the people working here informed us that we were not allowed to feed the peacocks. Apparently they can get aggressive. Made a note of that as I kept a small distance as I aimed my telephoto lens at this majestic bird.

Of course, it was time to turn towards another location on the Magnolia Plantation grounds...


 
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The Audubon Swamp Walk

The entrance was, funny enough, near the entrance/exit of the entire place. The trees were just as numerous around the small parking area, with an arching sign indicating the start of this little journey. I was left wondering what I would see. What I would experience.


 
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What I was met with was small paths that eventually turned into wooden walkways that rose above the marshes below. Fewer people were exploring the area here. One of which was a family whom immediately pointed out an alligator resting hidden among the brush and water. Like them, it was a photo opportunity I wouldn't resist. I ended up experiencing more wildlife that I snap shots of, from the tall cranes to the little dragonfly that rested on the cobble pathway.


 
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With the wooden walkways and the giant trees that stretched towards the sky, it reminded me back to when I was playing Myst as a kid and discovered a location called the Channelwood Age. This digital location was also a marsh area with wooden pathways and towering trees. Only things that were missing were the treetop village and a windmill. It was nice to experience something like this, since I always did like the Channelwood Age the most out of all locations in that game.


 
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Like that fictional world however, it can be easy to end up walking in a circle. I ended up receiving a map of all locations that came along with my ticket so it wasn't a big issue for me luckily. Although I did make a wrong turn and was staring at the entrance of a cemetery where slaves were buried and a memorial for them. Didn't really stay that long since I wasn't a fan of cemeteries. That and I was checking out the forecast on my phone periodically since there was a chance of rain that day. The last thing I want was to get my camera equipment wet and ruined due to unfavorable weather conditions.


 
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Best Time to Go:

March-May

Could also visit during October for nice seasonal weather

*I went during the latter.

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Final Thoughts:

I overall did really enjoy the location despite going in the fall. I have heard that the place was magical during the Spring with all the flowers in full bloom. I need to plan another trip around that time to experience this fully and find out myself. Even during the off-season, the place shows its own sense of beauty that any nature photographer would love.