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Buggin' Out: My Family's Adventure at the Magnolia Gardens Ladybug Release

A VW Bug decked out ladybug style.
A VW Bug decked out ladybug style. All photos © 2016 Audra Gibson

When you come across a person who uses the words: “summertime in Charleston” and “bugs” in their conversation, you are quick to assume that they are talking about undesirable pests. Admittedly, there are lots of mosquitoes, no-see-ums, or, even worse, the dreaded Palmetto bugs here. Your first thought probably wasn't “ladybugs”… “Wait, ladybugs?” Yes, ladybugs (and to be fair to the ladybug population, there are male ladybugs too…man-bugs.) All bad jokes aside, you can find the biggest gathering of ladybugs that Charleston, SC has to offer on a hot, summer day at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, America’s Oldest Romantic Garden.

Magnolia Plantation Ladybug Release. © 2016 Audra L. Gibson
The Carter family in front of the White Bridge at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens


On Saturday, July 23rd, 2016, Magnolia hosted its 3rd Annual Ladybug Release event. I hadn’t made the journey out to the gardens since elementary school. Although I’m a Charleston native, I’ll admit it’s easy to forget just how many activities and attractions are available to us on a daily basis in our own city…guilty! A recent addition to our family has also made my world feel a bit smaller recently, as we now have a newborn and a toddler in our house. Some people may think that means it’s a crazy idea to try and get out, but I’m here to tell you it’s kind of crazy not to get out every now and then. It’s good to get outside! All things considered, I was classifying myself as a “newbie” to the Magnolia Gardens scene. Thankfully the ladybug release was a super easy, kid-friendly, family-friendly event.


Ladybugs fly free at Magnolia Gardens.  © 2016 Audra L. Gibson
Ladybugs fly free at Magnolia Gardens.


The grounds at Magnolia are stunning to say the least. There was plenty of time to wander the gardens and explore. My crew managed to make it for three hours before we turned in. Moms: don’t be like me and forget sunscreen (mistake #1). I did happen to bring the bug spray (no, not for the ladybugs, for the gnats). Most of the garden walkways offer plenty of shade, but the exhibits and waiting for the ladybugs to arrive were in full-view of the sun. Even though the humidity was draping everyone in a soggy, thick blanket, there was a huge turnout for this event. Lots of cute kids dressed in ladybug look-alike attire were exploring the exhibits and wandering down garden paths with their parents.

Next time I would bring more water with me, but at least we brought the stroller and baby carrier (absolute essentials at this event for the little ones, as there is a lot of walking involved). There were places to get water onsite. There was even a special stand at this event offering guests complimentary sno-cones (you can bet their tip jar was full). I was happy to be wearing comfortable shoes (it was muddy in some areas from a recent rain) and light clothing. To the very uncomfortable looking, hot patrons who I saw today in long pants, namely the creator of this Traveling Ink website, I am so sorry. Did I mention it was hot?


Ladybug Release Magnolia Plantation. © 2016 Audra L. Gibson

Ladybug Release Magnolia Plantation. © 2016 Audra L. Gibson

Families enjoy the festivities at the Magnolia Ladybug Release. © 2016 Audra L. Gibson

Families enjoy the festivities at the Magnolia Ladybug Release.


We wandered around many of the booths and vendors: it reminded me of all of the Southeastern Wildlife Expo (SEWE) booths and they were all kid-friendly. They had face-painting, archery, beekeeping, a touch-tank from the Grice Marine Lab, and reptiles to touch from the Edisto Serpentarium, just to name a few. My toddler also loved Magnolia’s Petting Zoo where she could walk right up to several goats, a deer, peacocks, rabbits, geese and a turkey. We could have easily stayed in there the whole time with the animals, but we were too excited to move on and see some ladybugs.


Touch Tank Magnolia Plantation © 2016 Audra L. Gibson

Kids enjoy a touch tank exhibit at Magnolia the day of the release. © 2016 Audra L. Gibson.
Kids enjoy a touch tank exhibit at Magnolia the day of the release.

The wait for the ladybugs to arrive on site was probably the hardest part for my crew. An hour after arrival feels like an eternity to a two-year old. So, if you have young children, you may want to arrive closer to the time of ladybug distribution. We did find some rest in the shade, near the house and many people had already taken refuge on the porch to divvy out snacks and sippy cups. (If you are a parent, you know that you better come prepared for “Snack-30,” a magical time frame when children suddenly need nourishment before they completely lose it).


Guests pose in front of one of the VW bugs that delivers the ladybugs to the gardens. © 2016 Audra L. Gibson
Guests pose in front of one of the VW bugs that delivers the ladybugs to the gardens.

The ladybugs did arrive shortly after aboard two snazzy, red and polka-dotted Volkswagon beetles. The volunteers were very efficient in handing each child a plastic cup filled with tens of ladybugs. Then everyone was left in charge to take their ladybugs to release them in some part of the garden. This part is where the strollers or carriers come in handy. We found some amazing spots in the manicured garden, “Flowerdale.” Then we paraded over the white bridge, walked through winding trails by the river, and looped back around to the house.

We climbed on roots of grand oaks, poked around tall grass, and saw beautiful hibiscus flowers before finding “the perfect spot.” Then we let our ladybugs go. They are flying free in the gardens right now.

Some kids really are experts in letting bugs go: we saw the “pick them up one-by-one” method, the “dump the whole cup over and watch them crawl/fly away” method, the “flick them away” method and the like. Which method would you choose? It’s up to you. And since they are ladybugs, you don’t mind at all should one land on you, or crawl in your hair, because they are cute and harmless. (I don’t think my toddler really believed me. She liked to watch, not touch.)


Volunteers distribute ladybugs to children to release into the gardens. © 2016 Audra L. Gibson

Volunteers distribute ladybugs to children to release into the gardens. © 2016 Audra L. Gibson

Volunteers distribute ladybugs to children to release into the gardens.

The ladybugs are great for the local environment. The 150,000 plus that were released last week will be natural predators for aphids and scale insects that would otherwise be harmful to the flora of the gardens. Also, ladybugs are tame for boys and girls of all ages, parents and grandparents included. We joked that an event where the masses release containers of other bugs (roaches for instance) out into the wild wouldn’t have been as big of a hit.

This was a great event for families who want to get outside and teach the next generation of children about environmental stewardship and the importance of exploring and preserving the outside, natural world. Magnolia Plantation did a great job to offer a day of play, creativity and a chance for families and guests to create memories with nature. This family definitely had a lot of fun, despite the heat, and we will be making another trip out to Magnolia very soon.


Thank you to Magnolia Gardens’ staff, volunteers, and exhibitors for an awesome, family-friendly event. We already have the Magnolia spring Easter Egg Hunt saved on our calendar.


Jennifer Carter

Jennifer is a Clemson Tiger cheering, nature-loving, surfboard weilding mother of three, married to her college sweetheart, David. In her travels she has sat with baby tiger cubs, ridden an elephant, ziplined through the forest, climbed Machu Pichu, and explored East Asia. As a certifiable Charleston native (we checked her credentials), she may be the most qualified of any of us folks to tell you all about her hometown here in the Lowcountry.

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