Thomas Drayton and his wife Ann established Magnolia Plantation in 1679. The ownership has remained in their family for over 300 years. The early gardens were established in the late 17th century, but it was not until the early 19th century when the gardens expanded to a grand scale.
During the recovery following the Civil War, the gardens became a focus of the plantation over agriculture and opened to the public in 1870. It is the oldest public tourist site in the low country and the oldest public gardens in America.