The Evolution of the Landscape
A Layered Approach
Through the centuries, both the house and landscape have evolved, and while the house has remained substantially intact, the landscape has been transformed by hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, neglect, and changes in landscape styles. Furthermore, while a house is inert, a landscape is alive. New plants grow. Older plants die off. Fortunately, just as the main house is guided by a preservation philosophy to ensure that the layers of time and change are kept intact, so are the grounds. On the river-front lawn is the 18th-century ha-ha, the ditch that provided a nearly invisible barrier that kept large animals in grazing areas without disrupting the sweeping view. On the land-front lawn is the Victorian garden mound. A camellia planted about 1920 by Richmond Bowens, the descendant of seven generations of African Americans at Drayton Hall, survives as a key element of the gardens. This preservation approach to the landscape makes Drayton Hall exemplary among historic sites in the nation. According to Southern landscape historian Suzanne Turner, Drayton Hall has "the most significant, undisturbed historic landscape in America."
Visitors to the site today can explore various parts of the landscape through the River Walk along the Ashley River and the Marsh Walk along the salt-river marsh and the remains of 18th-century rice fields. A major initiative, The Heritage Landscape Project, seeks to tell a broader and deeper story of the people and place over time by taking advantage of these landscape assets. This project is made possible in great part thanks to a generous endowment established by Gail and Parker Gilbert of New York and Charleston.