The best of Charleston and the South Carolina low country

Let me tell you the tale of Adams Run and how this Low Country hamlet got its name. Some fool with a fuzzy sense of geography once mistook neighboring Edisto Island for the Garden of Eden-- and if you've ever seen its vine-tangled thickets and sweet-grass marshes, you'll agree that's not such a stretch. So, naturally, when Adam was cast out of paradise, he fled up the road to Charleston and passed through here on the way. Hence, the biblical allusion.

I think of this yarn, handed down by one of my elderly Edisto cousins, every spring when I return to ancestral haunts in the Low Country, which stretches some 190 miles along the South Carolina coast, roughly between Pawleys Island and the Savannah River. I say roughly because it's difficult to define the area on a map. You'll capture the Low Country's soul only after running barefoot down a dock to watch a shrimp boat gliding out on the tide, riggers and nets extended like a belle lifting her skirt out of the pluff mud. Or while wandering through Charleston's back alleys, where the heady fragrance of jasmine, as one of my great-aunts used to drawl, "is like to make you swoon."

As a child, I was sent South during sweltering summer vacations. Now I have a say in the matter and time my trips with the blessing of the shrimp fleet-- when the marsh grass is partway between winter green and summer brown and boiled-peanut stands start to crop up along the roads. It's also when bait stores advertise THOROUGHBRED CRICKETS while fireworks shacks hawk Thunder Bombs and Boomer Lady Fingers. South of Broad Street, Charleston hostesses break out with a bad case of Spoleto fever. Towheaded children search the dunes of Sullivans Island for sand dollars. And down in the country, gospel revivals celebrate this side of eternity.

Who can really blame the fool that named Adams Run?While the Low Country may not actually be Eden, it's a slice of heaven to me.

Suth'n Style
Low Country hostesses are celebrated for gracious hospitality and gorgeously decorated houses. The first can be learned only at mama's knee; the second can be acquired for a price on King Street, Charleston's antiques thoroughfare.

Pick up a Sheraton hunt board or a set of Chippendale dining chairs at George C. Birlant & Co. (191 King St.; 803/722-3842). Across the street at Elysia (200 King St.; 803/853-8502), James and Cristina Yohn display their rustic farmhouse finds.

During the war, many local families buried their silver in the backyard. If you don't feel like digging, troll Croghan's Jewel Box (308 King St.; 803/723-3594). The front window may look like a jumble sale, but Old Charleston knows better.

Charleston Gardens (61 Queen St.; 803/723-0252) is the source for setting up a cultivated patch-- potted azaleas, Spanish moss, stone fountains.

Swinging Times
Created by a riverboat captain, the Pawleys Island hammock is the favorite refuge of daydreamers.Buy yours at the Original Hammock Shop (Hwy. 17,Pawleys Island; 803/237-9122; $90- $146).

Sea Island Art
Elayne Scott encourages self-taught artists to shed their amateur status at her Red Piano Too Gallery (853 Sea Island Pkwy., St. Helena Island; 803/838-2241).

Big-time buyers snap up vibrant Low Country landscapes for their beach houses at the unorthodox Wells Gallery (103 Broad St., Charleston; 803/853-3233).

How Sweet-Grass It Is
For fine examples of native sweet-grass basket art, pass up Charleston's City Market and chat with weavers on the post office steps at the corner of Meeting and Broad Streets, or cruise the roadside stands on Highway 17 north of town.

Mary Jackson (803/762-0764), who keeps busy filling commissions for museums, is willing to work with individual clients. Call for an appointment.

Zero in on the exquisite baskets at the Bay Street Gallery (719 Bay St., Beaufort; 803/522-9210).