Sited on a natural bluff with sweeping views of the Ashley River, Middleton Place’s gardens were begun by Henry Middleton in 1741. With the advice of an English gardener and Dezallier d’Argenville’s The Theory and Practice of Gardening, Middleton designed a 45-acre classical garden and 16-acre lawn. The plantation is approached from the west along a gravel loop and perpendicular drive which aligned with the Jacobean manor’s center hall. Moving from the manor east toward the river, a straight gravel path becomes broad lawn steps that bisect symmetrical curved lawn terraces, then continues as a greensward flanked by two butterfly-wing artificial lakes that terminated at the river’s edge. To the north, Middleton designed formal gardens featuring parterres, allées, and bowling greens, with sculpture placed to draw the eye towards canals and reflecting pools. These gardens were buffered by native woods to the north, with agricultural fields, a creek, and the Rice Mill Pond located south of the formal landscape.
Generations of Middleton’s descendents continued to improve the gardens, adding camellias given by botanist André Michaux and introducing azaleas, crepe myrtles, magnolias, and exotic flora propagated in greenhouses on-site. Following the main house’s destruction by Union soldiers in 1865, the grounds fell into a long period of disrepair. In 1916, J.J. Pringle Smith began a thirty-year garden restoration effort. The gardens were first opened to the public year-round in 1952, and in 1971, 110 of the estate’s 7,000 acres were designated a National Historic Landmark.