The gardens at Middleton Place illustrate the grandeur of an eighteenth century garden designed to impress. The owners were public figures and they built the garden to reflect their status in society in both scale and beauty. Since visitors arrived by boat the house faces and the river and the gardens were designed accordingly. Two large butterfly wing shaped lakes are arranged on either side of the central axis leading from the front door of the house to the river. A long vista from the front door ends in the woods across the Ashley River in a style inspired by La Notre, who designed the gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles 41 years before Middletown layout his gardens.
La Notre emphasized rational order, geometry, and symmetrical balance and his influence may be seen in the octagonal sunken garden, camellia allees, the secret gardens, rectangular Reflection Pool, and the Sundial Garden. The plants growing in these areas such as boxwood, crepe myrtle, Camillia japonica, and species roses are those that would have been in the garden during in the 18th century.
Twentieth century additions to the garden include the New Camillia Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Azalea Hillside. The Azalea Hillside is magnificent in spring but an effort has been made to provide visual interest in all season. There are two interesting “period’ plants: the Middleton Oak, arguably the oldest live oak (Quercus virginiana) in the United States. Legend has it that the tree is one thousands years old. Another historic plant are the huge Camellia japonica, supposed to be the offspring of the original cuttings given to the Middletons by Andre Michaux, a French botanist who came to the colonies to find new plants.
The naturalized areas, the house, and stableyard, complete with animals, may also be visited. Other gardens of interest in the area include Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Charleston, S.C. and Cypress Gardens, Moncks Corner, S.C.. The Festival of Houses and Garden during the spring each year gives you the opportunity to see many of the gardens in historic Charleston but even at other times a pedestrian can get glimpses of the private gardens throughout the area.