Thursday, April 4, 2013
It is already, and promises to continue to be, a spectacular spring at Middleton Place. The horticulture staff reports that gentle temperatures all winter – barely moving the needle below freezing – will produce a long, rich and colorful azalea season. Particularly abundant bloom is predicted through early, mid, and late spring.
Sidney Frazier, Vice-President of Horticulture, explains that the mild winter temperatures protected azaleas from damaging freezes. Azaleas now join camellias that have been flourishing all winter and that are expected to continue blooming for some time to come. “The usual chilly winters have become unusually warm,” he says. “It’s going to be pretty exciting here this spring. The camellias are looking really fantastic right now, with tons of buds still waiting to blossom. Varieties of red, white, and pink azaleas and camellias make a potent mixture. All the colors are creating a brilliant painting on the canvas of the gardens.”
Pansies, tulips, daffodils, lilies, and dogwood complement and enliven the broad brushstrokes of camellias and azaleas, from the hillside above the Mill Pond to the northernmost plantings around the Cypress Lake. Recent spring rains have further helped the flora at Middleton Place to look fresh and new. “The blooms take up a lot of food and energy, so the rain has helped a lot,” Frazier says.
Henry Middleton began to create his formal “green garden” in 1741, reminiscent of Versailles, following André Le Nôtre’s principles. Garden rooms in a variety of geometric patterns are all inter-related with long vistas, varying elevations and surprises at every turn. Successive generations added flowering plants, while keeping the formal design intact. After the short life of Arthur Middleton, signer of the Declaration of Independence, his son, Governor Henry Middleton, added hundreds of camellias along the gardens’ pathways in the late 18th and early 19th centuries – the first planted by French botanist André Michaux in 1786. The garden color was further enhanced with the introduction of azaleas beginning in the 1840s.
Today, the gardens are maintained at the highest possible standards. Frazier says that while many people come for the brilliant color of the flowering plants, true landscaping enthusiasts find the overall design to be just as enthralling off-season. But spring at Middleton Place offers something for everyone. “America’s oldest landscaped gardens” are now at their most breathtaking.
The mission of the Middleton Place Foundation, a public non-profit educational trust, is to sustain the highest levels of preservation and interpretation for the Middleton Place National Historic Landmark, its Gardens, House, Plantation Stableyards and affiliated properties, such as the Edmondston-Alston House, and their collections and programs. Middleton Place and the Middleton Place Restaurant are located at 4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414. www.middletonplace.org