Charleston is a city of Magnificent Gardens. They are everywhere. Tucked behind private historic homes, peaking out of wrought iron gates. They are in our neighborhood parks providing us beautiful places to walk or sit quietly among the flowers. They are national treasures like Middleton Place, considered America’s first landscaped garden or Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, America’s oldest public garden (since the 1870’s).
But I don’t think there is a more magnificent example than Mrs. Whaley’s Garden, said to be the most visited private garden in America. And not just magnificent because of it’s beauty, but also it’s history, it’s legacy, it’s endurance.
It all started with a young lady in 1940. Confined to her bed for an extended period, Mr. Whaley asked if there was anything he could do for her? Yes, she replied. Would he have Loutrel Briggs (a well known landscape architect) design a garden for their 30 x 110 foot small space at 58 Church Street? Briggs developed the plan, but it was Mrs. Whaley’s heart and soul that created this Charleston treasure. The power of one request plus a lifetime of abundant enthusiasm and passion, well, anything can happen.
In 1997, at age 85, Mrs. Whaley became internationally known when a book was published titled “Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden” by William Baldwin. People from all over the world would come to visit after reading her memoir. Twenty years later, Mrs. Whaley’s third daughter, Marty Whaley Adams Cornwell, continues the tradition. She nurtures and maintains the garden with the help of a horticulturist who read the book at a young age which shaped his future. “Mrs Whaley and Her Charleston Garden” is much more than a gardening book. It is a witty primer for gardening and for life.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to stroll through the garden with Marty, as I enjoyed a fresh lemonade (courtesy of her son’s lemonade stand). As I arrived for my tour, Marty graciously stepped aside, anticipating my reaction, and said, “I’m gonna let you walk along and see it as it is”. I gasped and sighed at the sight of this beautiful Charleston garden. There is something about THIS garden that speaks to your soul and tells you it was built on love, maintained in love. As I looked on in amazement and stated I couldn’t believe she had kept this family garden growing, changing, evolving, and thriving for so many years. Marty laughed and replied, “Momma ain’t goin’ nowhere”. Clearly, she is still present in this garden.
Charleston has so many magnificent gardens, and Mrs Whaley reminds us why our gardens and parks are so special, they give us a place to “sit with our soul”, a place to let our “imagination take wings” and a place to embrace the beauty of changing seasons.
Be inspired. Create your own garden sanctuary, in your yard, a window box, or a lovely container. And know, that sometimes the beauty we create today, is what gives others joy for years to come.
Mrs. Whaley’s garden is open to the public by happenstance or most Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons for a donation of $10 per person. Please submit your donation through the front door mail slot at 58 Church Street. You can follow Mrs. Whaley’s Garden on facebook and instagram.