Two Gorgeous Gardens and One Gorgeous Aunt

Because I write about gardening, I’m always excited to see public gardens when I travel. And this trip provided two doozies. In Raleigh NC, home of NC State University, there is the Raulston Arboretum, with amazing trees (as you would imagine) but so much more. I took about a gazillion photos of individual plants (and their tags, so I could remember what the heck they were), but none captures the full glory of this amazing space. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. And best of all, it is completely free.

Then, in Hartsville SC, where our adorable aunt Margie lives, we visited Kalmia Gardens, a beautiful estate garden right in town. It was the wildly ambitious project of Mrs. May Coker, member of the town’s most prominent family, who in the thick of the Great Depression took over a dilapidated former plantation house (dating from 1820) sitting on 35 horribly neglected acres and turned it into something quite magnificent.

Today Kalmia Gardens is owned and maintained by Coker College, and is open to everyone without charge. With its restored historic home, beautiful formal gardens, and the amazing 60-foot staircase leading down to the stream below, it is definitely worth a visit.

Kalmia, by the way, is the scientific name of the beautiful shrub commonly called Mountain Laurel. First cousin to rhododendrons, it is native to the southeastern US, and thrives in dampish, shaded areas – just like that 60-foot bluff in the garden. When we visited, the bloom season had just ended. Darn.

Of the Kalmia Garden photos, I especially want to point out the black rocking chairs, on the porch of the home . A wide front porch, with these tall chairs, is quintessential South. We saw them everywhere.

Including at a terrific produce stand in the little town of McBee, South Carolina. (If you’re not from South Carolina, you’re probably pronouncing it wrong.) This local landmark, which draws shoppers from all around, has a row of colorful rockers by the front door. My sister Alice and our lovely aunt Margie couldn’t resist. And the strawberries were great!

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