“We have delicious lemonade—may I get you some?” asks Louise Jardine in a charming lilt that is accented by her native French. Standing amid the Nathaniel Russell House garden, Louise’s surname—a variation of the French verb “to garden”—suddenly becomes an auspicious hint at her personality. A vivacious, wisp of a woman with a singsong voice, she seems like a baby bird happily ensconced in her garden home. It is a gleeful admission delivered with a bright smile when she exclaims, ”I am 80—do you believe it?”
Although born in southwest France, Louise has spent the past several decades in Charleston, which she likens to her favorite European cities. “It all reminds me of places I visited when I was young in France—the narrow streets, the people walking everywhere, and the architecture,” says Louise. “The staircase in the Nathanial Russell House—oh!” With a clap of the hands, she pantomimes the spiraling nature of the house museum’s iconic staircase. “I love the expressions people make when they see it for the first time. And of course the colors in the house are so beautiful, too.”
She pauses to wave at a pair of ladies who have arrived for a tour. “Where are you from,” she asks with sincere interest. They make small talk for a moment. Then, she darts five feet to the left.
“Here! Come smell this,” she says as her hand skims the top of a rosemary bush. “Do you like to cook? Doesn’t this smell lovely?”
A born conversationalist, Louise has likely spoken with tens of thousands of visitors to the Charleston area during her tenure as a docent for Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF). In truth, the number may well be more than a hundred thousand visitors considering Louise has been a docent for the past 36 years, making her one of HCF’s longest-serving volunteers.
Spring, when Historic Charleston Foundation hosts its annual Festival of Houses and Gardens, is her favorite time of year. “Walking the city to see the homes from the outside is very good, but seeing the inside, how the people live—their colors, their art, their gardens—is really special. Everything is alive.”
Close to 700 dedicated docents, like Louise, volunteer time in support of the month-long festival, which grants the rare opportunity to tour private gardens as well as interiors of historic residences. Tour proceeds support HCF preservation programs, which means docents not only provide a wonderful guest relations experience, they also play a role in protecting the architectural, cultural and historic character of Charleston—the very definition of what we call Charlestonly.
The 65th anniversary of the Festival of Homes and Gardens began on March 22 and runs thru April 21. The next tour is tomorrow at 2 p.m. For a complete schedule of tours and events, click here.
My Charlestonly 10 with Louise Jardine, docent extraordinaire!
1. My favorite Lowcountry spring bloom is: Peppermint Peach Tree
2. My favorite Lowcountry picnic spot is: Charles Towne Landing
3. The estimated number of downtown dwellings where I’ve been a docent: Hundreds!
4. My favorite room is: The dining room.
5. My tips for hosting a successful garden party: It all depends on the weather, the kindness of the hosts and the beauty of the gardens
6. My favorite Lowcountry hostess gift is: A rice spoon. From the HCF Shops, of course!
7. My favorite adjective to describe the Festival of Houses and Gardens is: I have three—amazing, impressive and unique.
8. My favorite place to take out-of-town guests is: The Nathaniel Russell House!
9. My favorite Lowcountry food is: Crab claws.
10. My favorite part of being a docent: All of it!