Or rather, the lengthier title would be about an Angel Oak, a tea plantation, and a Tomato Shed Restaurant. But that would take up a whole lot of space in a blog title, so I wanted to keep it a bit simpler. We also went to Kilwin’s, in downtown Charleston, but we’ll see if I even have room for that. For the moment, I have to see how many photos I’m going to try and incorporate into this post.
At breakfast, we took a vote on where to go around Charleston, and the majority said they wanted to go where it didn’t cost much. Also, we have a few people that don’t have a head for heights, so we opted out of walking the Cooper River Bridge. At my suggestion, no matter what we decided on, I wanted to go visit the Angel Oak again, because my best friends hadn’t been to see it before. And it’s been a few years since any of us went, so it was just a short detour on the way.
The Angel Oak was named for the original owners of the property, and is estimated to be 300-400 years old. A Live Oak, its branches shade an area of 17,000 square feet, it’s 65 feet in height, and it’s trunk is 25.5 feet in circumference. Also according to the sign (I took a picture, if you want to check the numbers), its biggest branch is 11.25 feet in circumference, and 89 feet in length. The Angel Oak is a whopping big tree.
The first picture I took shows how the ends of the branches look, from the outside of the tree’s shade zone. Almost like a very large shrub, or a small tree, close to the ground. But once you step through those little outside branches, you see what’s really “hiding” inside.
One friend of mine was disappointed by all the signs saying that you can’t climb the tree, but I wouldn’t dare. Not because it wouldn’t be fun, but it’s so big and beautiful, I would hate to ruin something of such antiquity. And if the careful climbers could possibly harm it, what about those people that wouldn’t care? Let loose a bunch of careless college students, for example, and you’d have branches break, left and right.
As the sign says, live oaks become quite fragile, once they reach a certain age. I didn’t include all my pictures of the supports, but the long limbs were supported by wooden 2×4’s, while other higher branches had long metal poles holding them up. Lots of wires hung from branch to branch, or perhaps even to places above the tree. I never went and looked to see if they had any outside framework, perhaps attached to posts that looked like telephone poles. Maybe, who knows?
I tried very hard to include people in the pictures, to give some idea of scale. Not all the pictures, of course, because the immensity of the tree is enough for anyone. But if you see me standing in front of the tree, you’ll see how tiny I am, in comparison.
After we were done look at the largest tree, east of the Mississippi, we drove to the Charleston Tea Plantation. Again, I’ve been there before, but several of my friends have not. And when I was there, we didn’t have time to go on the trolley tour. This time, we wandered the gift shop until it was time for the next video-led tour of the tea processing factory.
This is a very short tour, but informative on how they make the different types of tea. Oolong tea, black tea, and green tea all come from the same plant, you know, they just have different amounts of time in the oxidation bed. One part of the tour cracked me up (ok, I kept quiet about it), because the disembodied voice says that the tea leaves have time to sit, quietly, in the withering bed. But what about the noisy ones, that don’t want to be quiet?
After that tour, I made quick purchase or two, and then hurried to join everyone. It’s a very old-school trolley, with wooden trim and not much room to stretch out in. So, I made sure I got some pictures of the trolley itself, as well as the fields of tea.
Our cheerful tour guide also works in downtown Charleston, but I guess he comes to the plantation a time or two, every week, to help out with these tours. Intermittently, he would play a tape of the man who chooses the types of tea to plant, and who is a first-class tea taster, trained at a school in Britain. Oh, yes, Bill Hall was the former owner, but the Bigelow Company bought the plantation from him, which has allowed them to find a bigger market for America’s only tea plantation.
Originally, the tea plantation was started elsewhere in the early 1800’s, but around 1960, it was relocated to Wadmalaw Island. The Lipton Company had a go at it, back in the day, but it wasn’t working out for them. Now that Bigelow owns it, Bill Hall is able to concentrate on expanding the plantation, experimenting with tea mixtures, while Bigelow does the advertising and helps get them more foot traffic to the plantation itself.
I found it interesting that they don’t plant seeds for this tea, but they talk about growing cloned tea plants. They actually let the “flush” on the top of the plants grow to some length, then cut two or three feet of it, and put them in water. Before long, it grows new roots, and can be planted in the greenhouse. Our guide told us that it’s quite easy to grow more, and they don’t use seeds because they’d rather work with what’s been tried and found true, the plants they already have.
Their one harvester machine is a one-of-a-kind, made specifically for the Charleston Tea Plantation. It’s a long, boring job, to drive very slowly through the fields, cutting off the tops of the “flush” of new leaves, and using a blower to put the cuttings into a container on the back of the machine. So, since the crazy weather had the plants growing late, they were only just selling the tea made from the “First Flush” of the year.
Speaking of machinery, they only have about 6 people working on the plantation, in the production of the tea (I don’t think this includes the tour guides and gift shop people). It’s expensive to employ lots of people, but with all the machines that do the work for them, they are able to get by with very few employees, unlike in Sri Lanka, where they might have 250 people picking the tea by hand. I only mention that example, because it was the one our tour guide spoke of, when asked.
You’ll notice the sign, showing where all the tea plantations in the world are located, with little lights for each one. I was surprised to find one listed in Australia, where there isn’t a lot of water, compared to the U.S. Also, according to the sign, it would be out in the middle of the desert somewhere. So, irrigation would be necessary, I’m guessing. But why, then, isn’t Australia on the yellow and blue directional sign, showing how many miles to the nearest tea plantation? I’m pretty sure Australia isn’t listed on there.
After the tea plantation, we went looking for a place called the Stono Market & Tomato Shed Cafe. We arrived on the porch, to the smell of boiled peanuts, which were boiling away in a container, to the right of the door. We perused our menus, while sitting on the front porch, until they were able to find seating for all of us.
At this point, we felt a bit like we’d been eating all day long, because of our large breakfast of French toast and bacon. But I don’t think it really should have seemed that way, because we had eaten breakfast a lot earlier than we usually did on Mondays after Seabrook. Maybe I’ve forgotten about a snack along the way?
I ordered the crab cake plate, with mac ‘n’ cheese and sweet potato fries. It was delicious, by the way. The crab cakes were advertised to be “crabbier” than most any crab cakes, anywhere else. Crab and not much extra, and I thought they were wonderful.
And though they had lots of fun looking stuff in their gift store, lots of canned food, bags of grits, and coffee, the only thing I bought was a jar of jam, made from strawberries and pink grapefruit. I thought my brother might like it.
From the Tomato Shed, we drove all the way into Charleston, for ice cream at Kilwin’s. I’m not sure why we did this, because we probably could have gotten it somewhere else, with less driving and less trouble. We had plans to be at a friend’s for a pizza dinner (not that any of us were hungry, by then!), and only had a half hour in Charleston, once we arrived. And, of course, we knew we were risking getting stuck in traffic.
The car I was driving arrived in good time, in a different parking garage than everyone else, we hiked it through the market, and then to Kilwin’s. If you’ve never been in one, this is another of those places where you gain weight just by breathing in the smell of chocolate. We were there for ice cream, though, and that didn’t take long to get. I always regret that any Kilwin’s I walk into (whether in Charleston or Gettysburg, PA), they never seem to have Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream, anymore. Do they have it in Michigan, still?
I got chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, in case you were wondering. After that, we had barely any time left. Though I did enjoy seeing a little boy see one of the horse-drawn buggies, and holler “YEE-haw!”, which must’ve been his word for “horse”.
You really can eat ice cream, out of a dish, with a plastic spoon, while walking quickly back to your car. But I had very little time for looking where I was going, and thankfully, I neither tripped, nor ran into anyone. We drove back to my friends’ house, though a little late because of traffic. Still full from crab cakes and ice cream, I skipped the pizza, and headed home.
This is where I picked up my own car, and I said my final goodbyes to all my friends, who live from Pennsylvania to Iowa to Florida, to here in South Carolina. If I’m lucky, I’ll see most of them again over Labor Day Weekend, but some of them, I won’t see until November. But such is life, so I hopped into my car, while it was starting to rain. Before long, it was a downpour, complete with some seriously freaky lightning. I saw so many lightning strikes, I was really praying that my car wouldn’t get hit.