Locals, visitors enjoy armchair#039; tour of Charleston#039;s gardens

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Within the restored Art Deco splendor of Greenville's historic Ritz Theatre on Sunday, gardening enthusiasts and others who simply love the beauty of nature were able to view more than two dozen lush and inviting gardens in one of the America's oldest and most beautiful cities, Charleston.

The Private Gardens of Charleston', sponsored by the Susanqua Garden Club, featured a slide presentation and commentary by Charleston native Louisa Cameron.

Cameron's combined love of gardening and her historic hometown inspired her to author two books on the subject, the best selling The Private Gardens of Charleston' and her newest book, The Charleston Gardener'.

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Susanqua member Stedham McGowin took a tour of some of Charleston's homes and gardens on a visit to the area last year.

She was so impressed by what she saw she returned to the Camellia City and "convinced us how great it was…so we said, Let's bring it here,'" remarked April Sherling, the club's president, in an introduction to the afternoon's events.

Cameron noted her own "life-long love affair with the gardens of Charleston" and said, "If one word could sum up the style of these gardens it would be enclosure'."

She explained that Charleston was one of only three existing cities in North America that is enclosed (Quebec City in Canada and St. Augustine being the other two).

Many of its 18th century homes and gardens were built in very close proximity to one another and its many long, narrow gardens have resulted, Cameron said, "in an amazing display of creativity within those small spaces."

There are few public gardens in Charleston, Cameron explained and the many gates and high walls surrounding its private gardens allow most people "only a glimpse" of the beauty and artistry within.

While tours are available to some of the homes, it is on a limited seasonal basis.

Cameron's extensive slide presentation helped bring these hidden gardens into view for those not fortunate enough to make a visit to Charleston and served as a refresher course' for those who have.

Cameron emphasized how the use of architectural and landscaping elements in and around Charleston's elegant old buildings-intricately carved plaques, beautiful iron gates, fine, mellowed stone walk ways, for example

are often incorporated into the overall garden design for a creation that truly pleases the eye.

"In art one refers to the artistic oval', where your eye moves around the artwork due to the placement of certain elements within the painting… that artistic concept can be seen

in many of Charleston's gardens," she explained.

The gardens featured in Cameron's presentation ranged from the oldest Colonial-era postage stamp'-sized creations to newer, more spacious gardens of grand antebellum mansions dating back to the 1850s.

Plants both rare and prosaic could be seen

Asiatic and Confederate jasmine, banana trees, angel's trumpet, sweet potato vines, wisteria, caladiums, Mexican sunflowers, bay laurels, lilies, tulips, daisies, roses, azaleas and yes, camellias are just a few examples of the flora found within the hidden' gardens of Charleston.

The city's location along the Atlantic seaboard makes it particularly vunerable to storms.

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo devastated many of the city's beautiful gardens, including Cameron's.

Her bleak, barren after' shots spoke volumes about the destruction the hurricane left behind.

As she explained in answer to a question from the audience, "You cannot insure live plants…you just have to clean up and go back to work and rebuild your garden on your own.

We've had many storms over the years but it doesn't stop the gardeners."

Several gardener-perfect' gifts provided by local merchants were given as door prizes both before and after the presentation and City Horticulturist Jennifer Stringer provided beautiful garden accents for the theater stage and lobby.

The afternoon event wrapped up with a light reception catered by Jill Stallworth and friends, featuring whimsical flower-shaped sandwiches, cookies and other goodies.

Both the reception and a book signing by Cameron were held in the Ritz's new reception room.

Visitors from Fairhope, Prattville, Montgomery and Monroeville were in attendance for the event.

Many attendees were heard remarking on the beauty of the Ritz and the Camellia City as they also expressed their enjoyment of Cameron's knowledgable presentation.

Susanqua member Nedra Crosby noted, "This was a great educational experience…and it was fun.

I'm glad we were able to do this for the community."