Magnolia Plantation tells 2 stories


Herb Frazier has spent his life telling important stories, first as a press reporter and now as the director of public relations for Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, SC. It is the oldest public garden in America, founded in 1676 by the Drayton family. It opened its doors to everyone in 1870, becoming Charleston’s premier tourist attraction.

“Working in such a beautiful place, when you go out, it lowers your blood pressure,” he laughs. “When you step out into a remote part of the garden, you don’t hear any 21st century sound, you just hear the sounds of nature.”

The historic gardens cover 500 acres. The plantation originally spanned 2,000 acres, but the land was sold after the Civil War. Filled with azaleas and a treasured collection of camellias, as well as countless mature specimens of beautiful trees, shrubs and plants, the plantation is a showcase for horticulture.

“Every direction you turn you see a different picture and every season it’s different,” Frazier says with a smile.

The white bridge from 1840 is iconic and one of the most photographed parts of the garden. There is also the Audubon Marsh Garden, which provides habitat for waterfowl and migrating birds, the Plantation House, a zoo and nature center and much more.

“We are trying to use Magnolia as an outdoor laboratory,” Frazier says of the gardens, “a classroom not just for history but for nature”.

A recently launched children’s kindergarten will be part of a 20-acre complex that includes a youth campground, nature trails, venues for edible plants, pollinator programs and more.

A popular event every July is a ladybug outing that draws hundreds of families. Ladybugs help control bad insects naturally.

“Throughout the year, we organize special programming for families with children; it’s very rewarding, ”says Frazier with a smile.

Preserving history

Magnolia does, however, tell two stories: the story of the Drayton family who had owned the property since its inception, as well as the connection to African-American families who first worked here as slaves. Many have continued to Magnolia over the years, and some black families still have ties dating back to the early 1900s.

“I think the majority of people of African descent who come to Magnolia understand the importance of preserving this history,” Frazier said.

The plantation’s From Slavery to Freedom Magnolia Cabin project preserves five historic structures that date back to 1850. These former slave dwellings are now reminiscent of what the life of slave laborers was like.

“I understand the contributions of people who were brought here against their will and the role they played in various fields to build a society in Charleston,” says Frazier. “I think it’s important for us to tell this story, to honor our ancestors and to recognize the sacrifices and contributions they made. If someone doesn’t, it’s a part of American history that will be ignored.

The workers have created something completely unique to Magnolia.

“What we have is a density of plant material that you don’t see in gardens,” adds Frazier. “African workers before emancipation, they just put everything very close to each other. As a result, we have camellias that are 10 to 12 feet tall. The collection is huge.

Living heritage

Frazier had a revelation spending time photographing the garden.

“One day, it occurred to me,” he says. “It hit me like a ton of bricks that the images I capture are images that are overplayed on a living canvas that has been developed and maintained through generation by enslaved people. Someone had to dig in the earth to create the pods, someone had to backfill the soil to create the dikes that once held water in these rice fields.

He wants visitors to enjoy the beauty and majesty of the astonishing property, but he also wants them to be remembered how it was born.

“It’s a living legacy,” he says. “I hope people can forget the pain of what happened here. We’re not trying to whitewash slavery or say it doesn’t exist. This is something that must be recognized so that their work and their sacrifices are not in vain.

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