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“The French Connection:” WestOf Newspaper

Breaking News, Fieldwork, Internships, Landscape, Press, Research, Uncategorized


Every year, we wait in anticipation as June rolls around and we get to meet our newest intern from the French Heritage Society Internship program that we are lucky enough to participate in. (See here for more information.) This year we were paired with Margarita Valencia, and we’re happy to report that others are noticing how exciting this program is. Read below for the most recent press on Margarita’s work!


French National School of Landscape grad designs uncovered gardens at Drayton Hall

by Kristin Hackler
Staff Writer

Earlier this month a new face arrived at Drayton Hall, fresh from the halls of the French National School of Landscape Architecture in Versailles, France. Her name is Margarita Valencia, and until June 24, she will be working in a newly uncovered section of Drayton Hall’s gardens to develop a landscaping design inspired and guided by historical documents.

The section she will be exploring was uncovered over the course of several years starting in 2004. As Drayton Hall staff worked to remove invasive species such as Chinese Tallow, Eleangus, and Chinaberry from 15 acres of land surrounding the main building, it was discovered that the area had been terraced and planted for ornamental purposes. In fact, old maps from the collection of the second owner of Drayton Hall, Charles Drayton, indicated the existence of a pathway along the south property as part of a possible pleasure garden walking experience.

French landscape architect Margarita Valencia will work with Eric Becker, Drayton Hall’s Manager of Lanscapes, in restoring recently uncovered gardens.

Since the philosophy of Drayton Hall is to have as light an impact on the historic landscape as possible, Carter Hudgins, Director of Preservation and Education, was quick to point out that this plan will not be a restoration but rather preservation. “We’re not in the business of landscape re-creation. This will be landscape preservation. We’re basically removing junk plants and trees so the terraces will survive,” says Hudgins. “Margarita’s work will not only help to redefine the elaborate terraces, but will give such features prominence through the establishment of a planting plan that, once implemented, will return native trees, historic shrubs, and their colors to one of early America’s most significant estates.”

Drayton Hall and Magnolia Gardens were the first to offer internships through the French Heritage Society exchange student program in 2010. Each year, three students arrive for a month to study at the historic plantations and this year, Middleton Place is also participating in the exchange.

“The school was looking for places for their students to fulfill their studies abroad and we thought it was a perfect fit,” says Eric Becker, Landscape Horticulture and New Facilities manager The students are participating in either a two or four year study with L’Ecole Nationale Superieure du Paysage Versaille (the French National School of Landscape Architecture] where they work and learn in Versailles. Margarita’s project plan will help us to manage and maintain the stability of the terraces, enhance the walking experience, and provide new space for further interpretation of the gardens.”

Using Drayton Hall’s 2004 Landscape Master Plan as a guide, Valencia’s design will carefully consider the connection of the pathway with the main house, river, ponds, the forest, and other important views. At the same time, she will be researching the ornamental native plants mentioned in the plantation’s diaries, journals, and letters in order to determine what plantings will be most evocative of the past.

One of the reasons the French Heritage Society was particularly enthused to work with Drayton Hall is due to the fact that Andre Michaux, a well-known French explorer and botanist, is on record as having given shrubs to Charles Drayton between 1784 and 1820. According to a 2003 article in the Southern Garden History Society’s spring newsletter, Magnolia, “From entries in Charles Drayton’s diary and his plant lists, his close friendship with Michaux is evident.”

“I chose to work at Drayton Hall because I like the architecture and landscape,” says Valencia. “I studied architecture at the university as well as landscape design because I want to work in both, and this was the best place to develop that. I’m also looking to improve my knowledge about the Latin names of plants,”

Valencia’s work will be integrated with the efforts of past exchange students who also worked on overlay planting plans and implementation, conceptual renderings of spaces, and research of the Drayton papers.

Drayton Hall plans to begin sourcing and installing the recommended and approved plants by early 2013. Employees at Drayton are particularly excited about this portion of the preservation plan as it is likely they will discover further evidence of the history of Drayton Hall and the historic gardens in the process. Becker did note, however, that the digging and planting will be closely observed by the Drayton Hall architect.

Drayton Hall is located at 3380 Ashley River Road. For more information, visit or call 769-2600. For more information about the French Heritage Society student exchange program,

Click here to access the article online. (Note that in the original article, Eric Becker is mistakenly identified as Carter Hudgins.)