Category: Flora & Fauna
You’ve seen them — African-American women, men, and children sitting on corners of the City Market, or at Saint Michael’s Church on Broad and Meeting streets, or along Highway 17. No matter the season, 100-degree sun be damned, these folks remain steadfastly focused on their craft: sweetgrass baskets.
An intricate work of art, the sweetgrass basket is a sought-after piece of memorabilia. Tourists visiting the Lowcountry see the baskets woven before their own eyes and are given a glimpse of the history behind them. It’s impossible to come away thinking these sweet-smelling masterpieces (think fresh hay) are anything less than special.
The sweetgrass basket wasn’t always a piece of art – they were made out of necessity. Today, the folks you see crafting them are Gullah, descendants of slaves taken from West Africa and brought to the coast of South Carolina and Georgia in the 1700s to work on plantations. In addition to free labor, plantation owners gained a wealth of knowledge and skills, such as basketry.
So what are the baskets made from? Nowadays, sweetgrass. But the skill was honed in the early days using marsh grass, or also known as bulrush. Using the needly marsh grass, slaves were able to coil extremely sturdy work baskets that came to be known as fanners. Fanners were used in the rice fields for winnowing, the process of tossing hulls about so that the chaff could separate from the rice. Work baskets also held veggies, shellfish, and cotton.
It was in the early 1900s that sweetgrass was employed to weave with, in addition to pine needles and palmetto fronds, which added flexibility and bend to the creations and allowed for more intricate designs, such as loops.
The Evolution of a Basket
You can find sweetgrass grown wild in moist, sandy soils near the sea, hence the aplenty supply in the Lowcountry. In the fall, the grass is a beautiful purple before fading to white.
When it’s time to collect the grass, you simply grab the green grass by the handful, with one foot on the root, and pull it from the ground. Then it’s time to lay the grass out in the sun to dry for three to five days, which is when it shrinks and becomes a more beige color.
On average, a good-sized basket takes 10 hours to weave, not including the time it takes to source and dry the materials. The price on a larger piece? About $350, which isn’t a lot considering the labor that went into creating it. You can also find simpler designs for $40, or elaborate ones for thousands. However if you’re really on a budget, you can always also find a sweetgrass rose, which are not only below $5 but also simply gorgeous little works of art — just like the baskets.
To learn more about this incredible tradition passed down through so many generations and to have a chance to weave a basket yourself, follow basket maker Sarah Edwards-Hammond on Facebook. She frequently conducts basket classes for both adults and children.
Where have you spotted sweetgrass weavers in the Lowcountry?
Dewees Island is a hidden gem located about 11 miles north of Charleston, where some people live and where others, including our fellow Charlestonians, love to visit. And simply put, it is where peace and solitude reign supreme.
On this small, secluded barrier island, there are no paved roads, no cars, no restaurants, and most importantly, no stress. Technology, computer screens, and phones can be ignored for the duration of your stay in favor of outdoor fun and relaxation. It is two-and-a-half miles of pure nature: beaches, dunes, an undisturbed maritime forest — a private paradise.
The homeowners of Dewees, ever aware of the conservation needs and uniqueness of the island, strive to leave the tiniest of footprints. The island is truly among the last of untouched places around, where all is unspoiled by the developed world. Since the island is full of Lowcountry wildlife, and it is not uncommon to share your visit with dolphins, turtles, eagles, and an enormous variety of sea and marsh birds.
The island is accessible via a ferry that leaves from 43 41st Street on the Isle of Palms. The ride lasts around 20 minutes, and you must be preregistered with Dewees Island Rentals or personally know a current Dewees owner in order to board. There are two boats- one smaller and faster, and one a bit larger for holding more people, luggage, groceries, and other deliveries. They decide which one to take based on the number of folks signed up to ride and the amount of stuff that’s going over. The ferry is often escorted by dolphins or a variety of seafaring birds and offers curious views all around. Even if you didn’t have the beauty and adventure of the island waiting for you, the ferry ride alone would be worth it. Be sure to call 30 minutes before leaving the island to make sure you get a spot on a returning boat.
Where to stay
Huyler House includes suites that are available for lot owners to stay on the island and homeowners to use for overflow house guests however, you do not have to know a Dewees owner to enjoy all Huyler has to offer. You can rent one of the suites, or choose from a variety of other homes from Dewees Rentals. The amenities are amazing: swimming pool, two tennis courts, billiards table, foosball table, shuffleboard table, screened picnic area with a grill, and wifi in the Great Room and suites.
Dewees is a wildlife preserve, so as we said before, you’ll encounter a variety of living creatures. Our resident Dewees Island expert, Judy Fairchild, is a naturalist who loves to show and tell all about Dewees Island, and especially the wildlife. A short cart ride around the island with Judy feels like a master class. It’s not uncommon to see a few baby raccoons, a basking alligator, or perhaps even an otter or bald eagle on a quick jaunt. While it is truly a thrill to be close to so much undisturbed nature, but there are some critters – like mosquitoes – you’ll want to prepare for in advance. Make sure you pack your bug spray. And, although this should go without saying, don’t feed the wildlife – including those pesky mosquitoes!
Once you step off the ferry and onto the tranquil island, don’t be surprised if you feel a weight lifted off your shoulders as your troubles subside. The roads are made of dirt and your only vehicles are your feet, a bike, or a golf cart. If you’re renting through Dewees Rentals, you’ll find a cart clearly marked for you when you exit the ferry. If you’re visiting friends, do what I do, and hitch a ride on one of their carts and then rely on your own two feet to get you around while exploring We think the best way to travel the length of the island is by foot on the sandy beach! The paths are clearly marked and the beachwalks extend through the maritime forest all the way to the sand.
There are no restaurants or grocery stores on the island, so if you’re going for longer than an afternoon, you’ll want to prepare and package your food in advance. Or, you can catch your dinner!
What to do
Fishing spots abound at Dewees, and there’s even a crabbing dock — but only take what you can eat in a single meal. Remember, conservation is key on Dewees. Other fun outdoor activities include kayaking, golfing, birding, beach walking, swimming, biking and golf carting. Lounging around with a good book is always a good idea, and you’ll find more one perfect spot on Dewees Island.
At every turn, there’s a breathtaking marsh or beach view and there are unparalleled sunrises on the beach and sunsets on the marsh. Views over the Impoundment, the old diked wetlands that can be flooded or drained as necessary, are amazingly serene. The shores are pristine, expansive, and gloriously empty, allowing Dewees to offer an almost private experience unlike any other on the Charleston Coast.
With all there is to do in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s easy sometimes to just keep from getting overwhelmed and stay home. It can be exhausting deciding from your upteenth favorite restaurants, landmarks, stores, parks, activities, and more! But when the family comes visiting, you have to do some choosing.
When we loaded up the car with my sister and her two teenage sons, I started seeing Charleston through fresh eyes as we drove around. The beautiful points of the Ravenel Bridge among the fluffy clouds and blue sky, the excitement of seeing pelicans roosting or their vertical dive into the water for food, and witnessing a pod of dolphins swimming their way through the wake of a boat. I forget how clear the air is and that you can see for miles from nearly any point. Everywhere we went I remember saying “There’s the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse, the flags from Fort Sumter, the Ravenel Bridge, the spire from St. Philip’s Church downtown,” etc.
There is a view from almost every corner of something you want to take a photo of. There is so much American history (my sister put it so eloquently “Man, a lot of stuff happened in Charleston”) and a feeling of “anything can happen here!” And the simplest, best, and free pleasure here is the beach. The beach kept us all, children and adults, entertained for hours three sunny days straight.
For a week straight I was overwhelmed with awe over all that is contained in this city that is really fairly small. The picture perfect beauty, the different characters walking the streets in the footsteps of history, and just all that Charleston ecompasses. The palmetto trees, the wildlife, the water, and the marshes. So much is here that is not found elsewhere. I guess you can say the same about almost every city, that there is something about it that makes it wonderful. But it’s more than wonderful. Charleston is magical. A gateway where the past, the present and future coexist and inspire.
After a week of eating copious amounts of awesome food, lounging on the beach, driving around scoping out Army Wives filming locations, going on ghost tours, wandering around the alleys of downtown, visiting historical landmarks and more we were beat. But as my sister and the boys got into their car after a final goodbye, my husband and I thought to ourselves “We really need to do [all of that] more often.” But not after a week of long recuperative naps!
Flower box on Queen St. dowtown
Waterfront Park downtown Charleston (beautiful on even a stormy day)
Pitt Street bridge park in Mt. Pleasant
Colonial Lake in Downtown Charleston has been written about time and again and enjoyed by many. It’s a place for fishing, festivals, kayaking (once a year), birds, walkers, joggers, baby strollers, the old and the young. That’s why I was pleased to read recently that Charleston has plans to improve the park.
As reported by The Post and Courier, the immediate plans include restoring the quality of the water. They will then be restoring the seawalls and walking paths, adding flower beds, and planting more than 90 trees. What beautiful and exciting improvements these will be. Below is a link to further explain what the city will be doing.
Here are just a few beautiful shots taken.
Did you know that South Carolina still has plantations? A plantation by definition is an estate on which crops such as coffee, sugar, and tobacco are cultivated by resident labor, or usually a large farm in tropical or semitropical climates. Plantations were developed and established long before the Civil War and are still around.
In today’s society plantations exist for many different purposes. Most are simply residential, used as family houses, vacation homes, or converted into inns for guests and visitors to reside. A few are open to the public as historic sites, used for tours, event use such as weddings or formal affairs, and in a few rare cases, some have petting zoos.
A handful of these plantations, however, are still functional today producing fruits and vegetables instead of the cotton or tobacco that helped shape their purpose hundreds of years ago. Original slave houses still stand on several plantations and offer a vast amount of history to those willing to learn.
Harriet McLeod, of the Chicago Tribune explains that finding buyers for these “antebellum plantations that one grew the indigo, rice and cotton that made South Carolina rich can prove quite the challenge.” In fact, ten plantations are up for sale in South Carolina according to www.plantationservicesinc.com. Heavy with history from colonial times through the Civil War,these Southern plantations were almost impossible to maintain without slave labor and most have fallen to decay.
As in the past, South Carolina looks to the North for help. ChipHall, real estate broker, claims, “An infusion of ‘Yankee money’ after the Civil War saved and preserved many historic Southern plantation houses and land.” His assumptions about Northern help are correct as most modern buyers do indeed come from the Eastern and Northern areas of the country.
Max “Macky” Hill III, whose family has owned Middleburg Plantation (built in 1697) for more than 30 years supposes that recent plantation buyers are looking for an investment, an area to hunt, or just a family vacation home. “Some are looking for the rarity of a surviving period house as if it were agigantic piece of antique furniture,” he said.
Plantations do cost at least $500,000 a year to maintain and those that are open to the public must charge an entrance fee to help maintain the property. It is normally a reasonable price to pay and well worth the history and experience. Four of the largest functioning plantations open to the public are Boone Hall, Magnolia, Drayton Hall and Middleton Place.
Boone Hall Plantation, located in Charleston County, is open daily for tours, special events, school field trips, and U-Pick season, where visitors can pick their own fruits and vegetables that the plantation produces. Their tour times and prices can be viewed at their website, and tickets purchased ahead of timeonline if desired.
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, founded in 1676, is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry and the oldest public gardens in America. This diverse property houses varieties of gardens, the plantation home, a nature train, boat tours, standing slave houses, a petting zoo and hold several weddings and events a season. Admission and tour costs can be found on their website with all children 6 and under free.
Drayton Hall Plantation is a historic home located in Charleston Countypreserved since its building in 1738 by the Drayton family. It is the oldest surviving example of Georgian Palladian architecture in the United States and remains close to its original condition today. Tours include the main house with readings from diary entries and photos of the family, an African American history with a walk through the cemetery on the grounds, and toursof the land and creeks that run through it. Prices are available on the website.
Middleton Place is 65 acres of gardens with something in bloom all year round, a house museum that was built in 1755 that still holds the family’s possessions, and plantation stableyards where costumed interpreters demonstrate life on a Lowcountry rice plantation. Special events are held regularly in the mansionand around the gardens, self-guided tours are available along with general tours and a restaurant is located on the grounds and open to all. Guests are also welcome to stay at the inn in one of the 55 spacious rooms. Tickets and admission information are available at the plantation’s website.
Whether you come to South Carolina to buy, stay in, or simply visit a historic plantation, it will be an experience you will never forget!
- Amanda Graham
It seems every other day Charleston, SC shows up in some travel article’s top something or other list. This time it’s USA Today’s and their 51 Great Places to Hike feature. Local treasure Magnolia Plantation is featured as a place to hike in South Carolina.
About Magnolia Plantation USA Today says “Hiking boardwalks through eerie cypress swamps is not your typical walk in the woods. But Magnolia Plantation & Gardens is a journey through South Carolina history in a heavenly setting.”
The Plantation was founded in 1697 and is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry and the oldest public gardens in America, having opened their doors to the public in 1870. They’ve won several awards for their restoration and preservation of former slave cabins located on the grounds.
It’s hard to be partial when there is so much beauty, education, history and importance in all of the area’s plantations. But if a family can only visit one, I usually would recommend Magnolia. From the Audobon Swam Garden , the petting zoo and nature center and a miniature horse ranch (I am a sucker for the animals), a nature train tour, a boat tour, a house tour- they’ve got it all to the keep the young and old alike equally entertained.
I once spent a good hour stationed in one spot in the swamp garden watching an alligator. Living in the Lowcountry has definitely made me even more aware of the awesomeness of nature than I was before.
While reading Kristin Walker’s blog last night I just thought of all the most excellent blogs out there in the internet world. What a wonderful way to meet people you would never otherwise, to learn about other places, and you can even learn about where you live. In this fast pace, quick bite (byte) world of internet communicating with Twitter, Facebook- sometimes you just want to actually read something with substance and emotion. These are a few of my favorite local bloggers/websites who feature articles about Charleston and other things as well.
Eat Well Charleston by Melissa Ohlson who is a registered dietician and all about cardiovascular health and feeding her two sons and husband healthy family meals. She shares recipes, tips, healthy choices at area restaurants and more.
The Digitel – All about Charleston- what is going on and what you should be doing. An easy to follow and eye catching format. Hip, cool and all that jazz. A little more than a blog but still. And readers can plant “seeds” and start their own stories. Truly a community site.
Read Charlie- Art, fashion, music, etc. If it’s social, if it’s happening- it’s on Charlie.
Seersucker & Stilettos – Mostly devoted to fashion and shops- great pictures and recommendations. You’ll probably find a little shop you never heard of before.
The Party Scene – This is the photo equivalent of a social calendar- but after the events have occurred. It’s just fun to look through their pictures- you always end up seeing someone you know and regretting you opted to not go to a certain event because it just looked so beautiful and fun afterthefact.
Two Doors Down is a newly created blog by Kari Kim and Liz Ryan to share tips on living locally and simply. Although it is just starting out, it already includes some wonderful posts and promises to be one to read daily. The ladies spotlight local artisans, offer reading suggestions, recipes, organizational and decorating tips, and give some serious love to worthy local businesses. We suggest you subscribe!
How about you? What are we missing? What’s your favorite local blog?
It’s just so beautiful here right now, don’t you want to come visit Charleston? Or if you’re in town already, visit downtown or the beaches and enjoy all the beauty this town has. I need to remember to do that more often myself. There is an abundance of beauty everywhere to be found here. If you decide to take it a step further and take an actual vacation to Charleston, give us a call at 888.843.2322 or visit us online and we’ll help you plan your Charleston vacation at Folly Beach, Isle of Palms or Wild Dunes.
Here’s some beautiful nature shots taken by my friend Erin Southerlin who just seems to enjoy “happy accidents” with her camera. Take a mini Lowcountry safari vacation. Look carefully at the shot of the bridge- there’s a dolphin crashing the picture.