Thursday, March 14, 2013
March 15 visit will highlight Garden’s French roots
From its early beginnings, Charleston has been an international seaport and its landscape and culture have been influenced by many nations. Middleton Place, the historic seat of a prominent English family, is no exception, as influences beyond England are apparent within its landscape and important family collections.
An opportunity to examine some of those influences will take place when Middleton Place hosts the French Heritage Society for lunch and a tour of the Gardens, House Museum and Plantation Stableyards on March 15. Charles Duell, President of the Middleton Place Foundation, welcomes the opportunity to strengthen relations with members of the Society. “There are many facets to Middleton Place that were directly influenced or inspired by the work of French architects and horticulturists,” he says. “We are delighted to host the Society, and celebrate our mutual heritage.”
The design of the Middleton Place Gardens was guided by the concepts and landscaping philosophies of Andre Le Notre—principal gardener to King Louis XIV—who built many formal gardens including those at Versailles and Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Henry Middleton, who founded Middleton Place in 1741, hired English gardeners but their designs were based largely on the formal gardens of Le Notre. Perfect symmetry and geometry, long vistas, changes in elevation, reflecting ponds, and classic statuary—all championed by Le Notre—are part of the grand concept for the Middleton Place Gardens. Fate would have it the French Heritage Society will visit Middleton Place on the same week Le Notre was born 400 years ago.
Frenchmen, Andre Michaux, Royal Botanist to Louis XVI, visited Middleton Place in 1786. Michaux’s influence on historic gardens along the Ashley River is well documented and he presented the Middletons with some of the first Camellias ever brought to this country. One of these plants still flourishes on the northwest corner of the Parterre overlooking the Ashley River. Michaux also introduced crepe myrtles and tea olives, and likely gave the Middletons examples of each. Today centuries-old specimen trees remind us of the French botanist’s early exploration of South Carolina.
Although the Middletons were proudly English, and later, proudly American, several generations of the family spent much time in France. This is well-reflected in the collection of the Middleton Place House Museum. Some of these treasures include a French-made tiara worn by Mary Helen Hering Middleton while attending the Russian imperial court when her husband was Ambassador to the country, as well as a brass and ormolu gothic clock by Leroy & Fils (circa 1825), a portrait of French socialite Juliette Recamier by Pierre Guerin, and many other objects of great historical and cultural value.
The French Heritage Society was founded in 1982 to encourage Americans and French to share their love of historic architecture. The Society has contributed support and funding to hundreds of restoration grants for historic monuments, buildings and gardens in France, and to properties in the United States that reflect France’s historic influence. The Society has given aid to restore buildings in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and Charleston after Hurricane Hugo (including a grant to restore the Middleton Place Rose Garden after the storm). The French Heritage Society also facilitates an internship program where landscaping students from the Versailles National School of Landscape Architecture spend the summer months working in America’s historic gardens, including Middleton Place.
The Society’s trip to Charleston takes place March 14-17, and will take the group to many of Charleston’s French-influences on a tour of “history, preservation, architecture, decorative arts, and plantation gardens.” Besides Middleton Place, the group will visit the Huguenot Church, several buildings designed by Gabriel Manigault, and another Middleton Place Foundation property, the Edmondston-Alston House, among other sites.
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 collections and programs of the Middleton Place National Historic Landmark, its Gardens, House, Plantation Stableyards and affiliated properties, such as the Edmondston-Alston House. For additional information, call (843) 556-6020, or go to www.middletonplace.org.