Let’s face it, as a gal who’s competitively shopping for the best deal on clipboards (a Christmas request from my big sis), I’m broke. But what I lack in deep pockets, I’m trying to make up in quality together time and shared holiday adventures with friends and family. Even so, it took a little morning bike jaunt through Magnolia Plantation and Gardens with my sweetheart to remind me that some of the best (and most romantic) gifts can show up outside of the proverbial box.
I love the plantation this time of year because the bugs are gone and the camellia blooms are out, making the place look like a true Victorian version of the Queen of Hearts’ garden. Blossom-ridden bushes weep petals that pool at their feet and moss-bearded oaks peer down to see just what’s the matter. It’s cool enough to ward off the dreaded sweaty bike seat and balmy enough to require only fleece. Thanks to the nippy air, warm-weather vines have bowed out to allow evergreens—palms, conifers, live oaks, and camellias—to take center stage. Even the swamp gators are not so spooky, as their winter-chilled blood makes them slower to the take.
Laced with paths both paved and bare, the place is impossibly romantic; in fact, the property was born of passion. Not long after The Reverend John Drayton stepped into managing the plantation in the 1800s (his elder brother was accidentally shot on its oak allée on the way to a deer hunt, and ownership thus fell to the next in line), he came down with tuberculosis. The treatment? Fresh air and mellow activity in the form of gardening. And the flowers? He carefully nursed acres of camellias and azaleas and so much more to help his Northern-born wife fall for the Lowcountry. These days, there are more antique camellias here than almost anywhere else in the country. Talk about an epic love story.
As my fellow and I rode around, I quietly cataloged the sweet nothings that came my way. Him leading me down one path, then giving me the reins to lead; listening to my chatter and commenting thoughtfully over his shoulder as we rolled along; not hesitating to try the boxwood maze and praising our successful navigation with a high-five and a quick kiss; and one of the most subtle bests of the bunch? (Don’t laugh.) It came when he fetched condiments and napkins for us after we’d settled down at a picnic table overlooking a verdant field with peacocks, miniature ponies, and goats—and when he didn’t complain a bit about the “earthy” smells accompanying my dream view.
Like the deceptively natural-looking garden that wraps around Magnolia’s plantation house and covers its grounds, there was an everyday effortlessness to our time together. I basked in it—the environment, the company, and the morning, all gifts in themselves. And somehow—though I do love tearing into a beautifully wrapped box—at that moment, a bike ride seemed like the perfect present.
There are no bike rentals at the plantation, but BYOB (bring your own bike) is encouraged. The outdoor Peacock Café serves hot breakfast and cold sandwiches. Our suggestion: pack your own picnic and buy their hot chocolate.