Charleston, S.C.–Design Inspiration

Storefront covered in greenery from head to toe

 Garden elegance—that’s Chas, South Carolina.  A walking tour is the best way to see the fine touches that make this downtown très cool.  Peeking through the ironwork Charleston is known for, reveals the most divine of garden spaces, mostly small, but some surprisingly expansive.  Almost every courtyard holds a fountain whose sounds beckon us to the shady havens tucked between walls, car parks and piazzas (side porches designed to beat the heat from the street).

 The formal undercurrent is what lends the gardens their elegance.  The boxwood hedges, checkerboard paving patterns, the espaliers—ah, the espaliers! 

Home on Tradd Street

The yards in downtown Charleston are eked out of the tiniest of spaces and no surface is neglected.  Even narrow walkways hemmed in by stout walls are lush.  Driveways are reduced to paved wheel guides so that cooling groundcovers surround them. Window boxes shower trailers down over otherwise stark walls and creepers cover stone facades.  Foliage dominates most plantings with leaves delivering much of the color: coleus, sweet potato vine, patterned caladiums.

A symmetrical courtyard with urn in Charleston Green

 A popular color for house trim and corresponding garden ornaments is Charleston Green: a green so dark, its nearly black.  The color originated back in the Reconstruction when black paint was all that was available.  Clever residents adulterated it with yellow pigments and this green has been a town signature ever since.  When paired with paler siding colors or the ubiquitous brick, we’re talking sophistication.

Formal symmetry draws eye to brick wall fountain

The focus on patterns is prominent in the gardens.  Whether played out in the herringbone of brick, pavers in diamond pattern or the symmetrical shapes of evergreen edgings, repetition reins supreme and the result is delightful.   The downtown area is pure southern sophistication and is very easy on the eyes.  If you’re a fan of gardens, architecture, history (British settlers arrived in 1670) or food, this should be your next road trip.  The homes and gardens along the Battery (the wall along the Cooper River) and up Tradd Street are charmers, but you’ll want to stroll this whole town to also take in the lovely government buildings and churches.  

© Colleen Miko, 2010.


About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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4 Responses to Charleston, S.C.–Design Inspiration

  1. I am a huge, huge fan of espalier, although I have never tried it, till now. Last year I planted a double row of Tilia cordata, and I am going to pleach them, yikes. The poles went up this summer and next spring, the wire will be strung, and I hope the first branches can start to be trained. A bit nervous about it, pleaching is not very common in North America, but when I lived in London, it was everywhere, so I was inspired.

    • Colleen Miko says:

      I have never tried to pleach anything, but I know Tilia cordata is a willing plant for that endeavor. You’re right, N Americans don’t do much pleaching, though I think they should. The results are stunning, especially when the trees are trained as a colonade where one can walk under the arched openings. In what shape or form are you planning to train yours?

      • I was just going to train it like a hedge on legs. Three rows of wire, 6, 8, and 10 feet. There are two rows of tilias, but they will be open to the sky. However, in another part of the garden, I have just planted a serviceberry allee, this I am planning on training, so the branches form an arch over top of the walk. I hope it will appear as a tunnel, from light into dark.

      • Colleen Miko says:

        Neato! I’ll have to check back with your blog, where I hope you’ll track the progress of both the Tilias and the serviceberry allee. I’m curious as to how long each will take to look their parts.

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