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!
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 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.
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.