South Charlotte

Charleston's 'secret gardens'

Festival of Houses and Gardens

March 22-April 21, Charleston. 843-722-3405

One of the intriguing charms of Charleston is usually off limits: the immaculate residential gardens wedged between historic homes. Through wrought-iron gates or a wooden yard entrance left ajar, you'll spy "secret" gardens - walkways lined with immaculate flower beds and lush, well-tended foliage that lead to private, miniature urban oases.

The Historic Charleston Foundation holds the ticket to satisfying your curiosity - a full month in spring when you can go inside splendidly preserved or restored homes and their behind-the-walls gardens. The Festival of Houses and Gardens HCF fundraiser runs March 22 through April 21. The tours are priced at $45 apiece.

Every Thursday afternoon, Glorious Gardens walking tours will visit eight to 10 private gardens; guides at each can fill you in about the plants, garden design and the garden's past. The gardens may vary from week to week.

A Secret Gardens tour will also be staged April 7 as one of the dozen historic home tours offered during the festival.

Most focus on a particular street in old Charleston - Anson, Church, Legare, etc. - or neighborhood (French Quarter). One tour centers on homes, gardens and sites that were in place at the time of the American Revolution. The gems - range in vintage from late-1600s residences to mansions built on the South Battery in the early 1900s.

Eleven of these three-hour tours will be staged twice during the month; check the website for the full schedule.

Also during the festival, guided history walks ($20) offered each morning from Historic Charleston Foundation, 108 Meeting St., knit the exteriors and sites into an over-the-centuries framework.

Tour reservations are essential. Be aware that tours become fully booked quickly.

The festival offers a trio of concerts ($25 each) featuring bluegrass, Beethoven and classic jazz.

Target audience: Adults with an interest in architecture, gardening or history. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.

Travel time from Charlotte: 3 1/2 hours.

Directions: I-77 South to Columbia, then I-26 East to Charleston.