“Invite Your Soul For A Visit” – a quote by Mrs. Emily Whaley about her iconic Charleston garden, the most visited private garden in the United States. And the garden I now tend.
I am Paul Saylors, Gentleman Gardener at 58 Church Street, the James Verree House, most widely known as Mrs. Whaley’s Garden. It has been 20 years since the publication of the New York Times bestselling memoir, Mrs. Whaley and her Charleston Garden, and visitors continue to be greeted at the gate. Charleston has such a bountiful gardening history, a history I found as a high school student in reading her cherished memoir.
As a young man I began gardening for someone who continues to be a mentor to me. At her breakfast table I discovered Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden and read it daily. Mrs. Whaley helped spark my interest in gardening and preservation, which led me to study horticulture at North Carolina State University and Historic Preservation at the most beautiful college in the country, the College of Charleston. Upon graduating from the College of Charleston I worked for the Preservation Society of Charleston, the oldest preservation organization in America. There I taught classes in Charleston Architecture, Charleston Neighborhoods and managed a continuing education program in Historic Preservation. I couldn’t shake my passion for gardening and decided it was time to start my own business. I approached my friend Marty for some guidance and asked if I could garden with her to get “back in the saddle.” Artist and gardener Marty Whaley Adams Cornwell, Emily Whaley’s third daughter, lives in her mother’s house and garden today. Her creative presence is very evident in the garden. We create, collaborate and love a good critic from visitors. It is a fun partnership and the stories of her mother are priceless.
I have taken the history of 58 Church Street beyond Emily Whaley and Loutrel Briggs, the landscape architect who designed the garden – even beyond Thomas Heyward, Jr., a former owner of the property and signer of the Declaration of Independence. I have read original deeds to the property, which indicate an existing colonial garden in the early 1720s. Can you imagine living on the same street as DuBose Heyward who wrote Porgy and Bess? Or the famous etcher and watercolorist Alice Ravenel Huger Smith? Mrs. Whaley used to buy Smith’s water colors for $5.00! Church Street was really the beginning of the Charleston Renaissance, which had passed by the time Ben Scott Whaley and his bride bought 58 Church Street in 1938. George Washington stayed a block away from the house during his well known southern tour. Famous gardeners like Rosemary Verey and Price Charles’ head gardener have influenced the design of this garden.
Come to Charleston and let me tell you about its history – from gardening and horticulture, to art and architecture. They go hand-in-hand as you walk her streets.
“Invite your soul for a visit”
For more information about tours of Mrs. Whaley’s garden, visit www.paulsaylors.com or find him on Facebook or Instagram: Mrs. Whaley’s Garden or Paul Saylors, Gentleman Gardener.