This former plantation is home to America's oldest landscaped gardens, begun in 1741 by Henry Middleton, second president of the First Continental Congress. From camellias to roses, blooms of all seasons form floral allées (alleys) along terraced lawns and around a pair of ornamental lakes that are shaped like butterfly wings. As for the house, a large part of the three-building residential complex was destroyed during the Civil War, but the "South flanker" that contained the gentlemen's guest quarters was restored. It now serves as a house museum, displaying impressive English silver, furniture, original paintings, and historic documents, including an early silk copy of the Declaration of Independence. In the stableyards, historic interpreters use authentic tools to demonstrate spinning, weaving, blacksmithing, and other skills from the plantation era. Heritage-breed farm animals, such as water buffalo and cashmere goats, are housed here, along with peacocks. If all this leaves
you feeling peckish, head over to the cozy Middleton Place Restaurant for excellent Lowcountry specialties for lunch and dinner. Dinner guests can walk the gardens and stableyards from 5 until dusk. There is also a high-end (but not overpriced) museum gift shop that carries local arts and crafts, plus a Garden Market and Nursery with a lunch café. You can stay overnight at the contemporary Inn at Middleton Place, where floor-to-ceiling windows splendidly frame the Ashley River. Kayaking excursions depart from the inn, and the Middleton Equestrian Center offers trail rides.