By Jennifer DeCiantis, Landscape Designer & Certified Arborist
The opportunity to restore The Gadsden House, a historic residence in Charleston, SC famed Ansonborough neighborhood, is a remarkable process to be involved in. The property has long been neglected. Nothing in the existing landscape existed when the house was built, except for the brick walls that surround the property. Any trees that may have existed when the original owners occupied the property are long gone. All paving and garden edging remnants are from a more recent past. Even the trees appear to be seeded by birds, with the exception of a decaying 40” magnolia, and a rare Japanese oak. Two mature hackberries tower over the south wall. However, signs of Armillaria lead to a gloomy prognosis that neither hackberry tree will recover from the root rot disease they are infected with. Due to their proximity to a home structure as well as the garden wall and parking lot, it is best to mourn our loss and replace the trees with plant material better suited to the site conditions. Remaining is a native magnolia located in the southwest corner of the site, a bald cypress adjacent the carriage house, the Japanese oak located between the main house and carriage house, and a cherry laurel located by the East Bay entrance.
Honoring Sense of Place and Memory
One of the main underlying goals of the project is to create a place within the three-building campus that seems to be a historical remnant with the Gadsden House. The hardscape and planting materials are composed to add interest to every view. Fragrance, sound, textile and visual textures surround and envelop.
Creating a Memory of a Place that should have existed is an interesting task. First imagine that the original owner’s life included leisure and parties comparable to events we envision for it today - anything from a group of painters with their easels and paint brushes to concerts and dinner parties. Imagine the patrons as fashionable and exciting. Also imagine the owners enjoy a private life in tandem with a very public one. Then overlay the style, fashion, and climate on the opportunities and constraints of the site.
In Charleston we may blur the line that distinguishes indoor and outdoor living space. Courtyards are outdoor living rooms. The Gadsden House should have multiple courtyards, for enjoyment at different times of the day and year. Views into adjacent rooms are framed in a way that teases you to gaze and explore. Threshold from one room to another is celebrated.
Look to the crumbling brick walls to inform the courtyards within. The lines and curves of the carriage house courtyards reference the brick walls framing the historic Philip Simmons wrought iron gates on the East Bay entrance, giving continuity to the campus. Magnolias and ferns frame arches in the south wall, celebrating the character of the old brick and crumbling mortar. Existing trees are honored; their canopies offer maturity and protection from the elements. Gas lanterns greet and comfort users of the site at night. Landscape lighting on select trees and garden features provides ambiance.
We have fallen in love with this gem of a property. We hope you do, too.
INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE?
Our expert teams - from development, investment, real estate, and property management - have experienced it all and have the insight to help you along the way.