Thursday, October 1, 2009

Behind A Garden Wall: The Old Unitarian Cemetery, Charleston, SC


Cemeteries often hold a strong fascination, perhaps because they remind us of our mortal end.  Not for me the wide open lawns with metal plaques flush against the turf, and pop-out vases for easy maintenance.  I much prefer those steeped in history with draped monuments, melancholy epitaphs, lambs, roses, willows and ivy carved of stone.  Very much like death itself, they are inconvenient but all the more gripping when concealed.

In Charleston, South Carolina a stone plaque set into a brick gateway on King Street marks the site of the oldest Unitarian Church in the South, founded in 1787 and "avowedly Unitarian since 1819."  Beyond the portal, behind the wall, its cemetery beckons the ambler like a ghost at the end of a darkened hallway.  Through a dark passage beneath an arching green canopy, one emerges into the burial ground teeming with herbs, shrubs and trees in wild abandon.  But neglected it is not.  Meandering among the stones we came upon a gardener drenched with sweat, at peace with himself, futilely pulling weeds.  But, this churchyard is known for its weeds; it simply would not do for many of them to be removed.  I was tempted to "search for truth and meaning" in that.

Well-rooted in and nourished by the past, typical species of a vintage southern garden flourish.  Among them we found Althea, Aspidistra, Azalea, Bignonia, Camellia, Campsis, Canna, Clerodendrum bungei, Crinum, Cyrtomium, Eryobotria, Euphorbia heterophylla, Ficus pumila, Hedera, Hedychium, Lagerstroemia, Lantana, Ligustrum, Liriope, Lonicera, Magnolia, Malvaviscus, Mirabilis, Nephrolepis, Parthenocissus virginiana, Pittosporum, Platycladus, Plumbago, Rosa, Sabal, Viburnum, Vitis, Wisteria, and much more.  If you have a moment, consider our images of that poignant place.















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