AS OF OCTOBER 2015 CYPRESS GARDENS IS CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. PLEASE VISIT http://www.cypressgardens.info/ OR CONTACT THE OFFICE FOR MORE INFORMATION
Walking the trails at Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, it's easy to be swept away by the beauty of the Lowcountry landscape. Every turn on the winding paths leads to a sweet surprise of nature - a water willow blooming at the edge of a bog, Monarch butterflies fluttering around pink azaleas, an Eastern kingbird perched on a tupelo.
With so much to see, visitors may not notice they're walking on the top of dikes built by slaves nearly 300 years ago. Benjamin Kittredge created the gardens in 1909 on the original rice fields of Dean Hall Plantation. Recognizing the unique beauty of the low-lying land, he rebuilt the old rice field embankments, dug canals through the swamps and planted new flowers, trees and shrubs. In 1932, he opened the gardens to the public.
Three miles of trails take you around the old rice field reservoir and deep into the wooded wetlands that make up most of the 170-acre property. We started out on the Main Path near the boat launch site and crossed a stone bridge to the Camellia Garden. It features hundreds of Asian camellias Kittridge's wife Elizabeth collected on a trip to southern China.
I was amazed at how loud katydids, cicadas, grasshoppers and crickets can sound in such a quiet setting. Now, the chirping insects are joined by a chorus of migratory visitors, among them solitary sandpipers, black and white warblers and rough-winged swallows.
We continued on the path for about a half mile, veering onto a boardwalk to explore an unusual structure made of slender wooden poles, connected by wire and draped with Spanish moss. A sign described it as a meditative space in the middle of the swamp where one can rest and contemplate.
From there, we took the Kittredge Path to the gravesites of the couple who created the gardens. A large concrete cross towers above their simple gravestones.
Back on the Main Path, we passed a bat hotel, a wedding gazebo, an inland rice field and bog garden.
The network of walkways also includes the more primitive one-mile Perimeter Trail, a path to a wildflower meadow and the Northern Nature Trail leading to picnic shelters and a play area for kids.
You can pick up a trail map at the Visitor Center. Maps also are posted along the paths.
For more information on Cypress Gardens, click here or call (843) 553-0515.