You are here


On my commute home, there are some vistas I especially look forward to, and most all of them include live oak trees. One view from the James Island Connector shows the Ashley River, the marsh, and a row of oaks that, from a distance, resemble a row of calligraphied Roman numerals. Another appears as I approach my neighborhood, a tunnel of trees that—if I’ve timed it right—fills with filtered sunlight pouring through Spanish moss. Then once home, I’ll grab a glass of wine, pull up a chair on the patio, and gaze at our postage-stamp view of the marsh, framed just so by curving oak limbs. Day in and out, I crave these moments and the instant relaxation they provide.

We’re blessed with these gorgeous trees throughout the Lowcountry, and as our art director Melinda Smith Monk says, they’re the “good bones” of most Charleston gardens. So we thought it appropriate to pay tribute to them in this Garden issue. In the photo essay “Living Legends”, Dustin K. Ryan’s stunning images convey the strength, beauty, and resilience of these natural wonders. If you’ve ever placed your palms on the trunk of the centuries-old Angel Oak on John’s Island or the grand trees at Middleton Place Plantation, you’ve felt their powerful resonance. Author Sue Monk Kidd described the experience well in her book Traveling with Pomegranates: “We stand there for a few moments with our hands pressed against the bark, as if to say, Yep, it’s a tree, all right, though this could never be perceived as an ordinary tree. I think about all the things that must have gone on around it in 500 years, all the terrible history—slavery, Sherman’s army, earthquakes, and hurricanes—but mostly I just feel the enduring beauty of the tree. I actually feel peaceful in its presence.”

This spring, after all of our plant-killing cold snaps, I’m especially thankful for live oaks—those on my property and throughout the Lowcountry. And just this morning, while writing this note, I was thrilled to learn that the Lowcountry Open Land Trust reached its fundraising goal, $3.3 million, to purchase an 18-acre parcel adjacent to the Angel Oak. It seems this living legend will continue to enthrall us for generations to come. Kudos to all of the organizations and individuals who stepped up to save it.

Darcy Shankland

Angel Oak Preserve
With the purchase of the 18-acre parcel next to the iconic tree, the Angel Oak Preserve aims to “honor the history, health, and traditions of the Angel Oak and John’s Island for generations to come,” says Lowcountry Open Land Trust executive director Elizabeth Hagood. For more information, visit

Photographs (Darcy) by Olivia Rae James & (Angel Oak) Dustin K. Ryan