“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in—what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” –Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables”
Gardening is known to have positive psychological effects on people. Toiling away amongst flowers and shrubs can decrease stress and induce a sense of calm. But the truth of the matter is that you don’t always have to put in so much physical exertion to enjoy those benefits — all you really have to do is visit one of South Carolina’s many public gardens.
With an abundance of days that are warmed by the golden Carolina sun, the state is practically a haven for horticultural enthusiasts. Thanks to the regional enthusiasm for flowers and shrubs there are many opportunities to enjoy the luxurious tranquility that comes from ambling amongst nature’s bounties. There are so many verdant spots to choose from, as each has its own unique set of qualities that provide a refreshing experience for the mind and body. Here we’ve highlighted four public gardens that delight and inspire visitors from out of state and the community that surrounds these properties.
When stepping into the Asia Garden at Furman University, visitors are seemingly transported out of the Upstate foothills and into a sanctuary reminiscent of the hot springs resorts in the mountains of Japan.
A former Buddhist temple, called The Place of Peace, looks serenely over this quiet garden that includes a stream, bog and waterfall. On Friday mornings, students can be found meditating in the contemplative place, and on many other days garden groups, schools and people in need of a few moments of serenity can be found on the meandering path made of small pebbles.
Visitors are often amazed by the variety of plant species from across the world that are residing — and thriving — at Asia Garden. There are 20 different types of bamboo and a variety of irises, including the Japanese iris. These, along with the kind of pine trees in the garden, are all native to Asia and have thrived in the Upstate climate because South Carolina’s latitude is similar to their indigenous countries.
There are large rocks that are strategically placed so visitors can sit to enjoy the waterfall and take in the other-worldly scene as koi swim among the cattails and irises.
During the spring months Asia Garden’s colors come alive when the huge weeping cherry trees bloom and the irises open to show their petals. In the fall, the Japanese maple trees appear to catch fire as their leaves become vibrant shades of red.
The garden is open to the public. Docent-led tours of The Place of Peace are available on weekends, 1-3 p.m.
As one of the 76 National Historic Landmarks in the state of South Carolina, Brookgreen Gardens has a reputation that precedes itself. Located in the Grand Strand area, the nonprofit “garden museum” is a quick 30-minute drive from Myrtle Beach. Included in the property’s roughly 9,000 acres are the Huntington Sculpture Garden, the Center for American Sculpture and the Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve.
The gardens became a public destination in 1932 when the Huntington Sculpture Garden opened as the first public sculpture garden in the United States. Since then, the property has expanded to include a butterfly habitat, a zoo, wedding and facility rental spaces, and a nature trail that includes an audio tour. History buffs can take in the scenes at working barns in the farmstead area which house goats, horses, cows and chickens that watch visitors closely as they pass.
The roughly 1,400 sculptures that dot the property of Brookgreen Gardens represent the works of every era of American sculpture from the 1800s to the present — a tradition that is being carried forth by the property’s Master Sculptor Program. This program takes the inspiration that the gardens provide to visitors and extends it to artists. Sculptors-in-Residence work in the garden and demonstrate their processes for the public through workshops and lectures.
Also included in the inspirational spaces is the Enchanted Storybook Forest, which contains a collection of playhouses that are inspired by classic children’s stories and nursery rhymes. One might think that among all of this activity the horticulture — the key component of a garden — might be forgotten. That is definitely not the case here. During the spring the property comes alive with daffodils, irises, azaleas, dogwoods and too many other flora and fauna to count. During the fall, winter, and summer the gardens continue to burst with blooms. There is never a dull moment in this picturesque place.
Mere blocks from the busy streets of Spartanburg is a haven that has become known as a place for meditation and solace. Hatcher Garden was originally a personal project of Josephine and Harold Hatcher, who retired to Spartanburg from Indianapolis in the late 1960s. As their backyard garden became more and more involved, the Hatchers began purchasing the lots surrounding their home and converting the former cotton fields into more gardening space.
The following years were spent in one DIY project after another: building walking paths, creating watering systems, building ponds and waterfalls, and planting thousands of flowers, trees and shrubs. As the gardens became more elaborate, the community began to pay attention and often pitched in to help.
The property became a gathering place for parties, picnics and events, and now even has a partnership with Spartanburg Regional Hospice and the Interim Healthcare Hospice to “provide a place of serenity and peace,” offering respite for patients, caregivers, and family who are dealing with end-of-life care matters. During the 1980s the property gained non-profit status, solidifying its stature as a community gathering place.
Every day staff members, volunteers and members of the Spartanburg community can be found wandering this urban garden paradise, which features perennials, a conifer garden (one of only two in the state,) a butterfly garden, sculptures by local artists and much more. More than 35,000 people visit Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve each year to take in this backyard project gone wild. Harold Hatcher passed away in 1999, but his legacy lives on through the work of three staff members, his wife and daughter, and an entire community of volunteers who host spring and fall plant sales and scores of educational programs.
Riverbanks Botanical Garden has welcomed visitors to its scenic views and haven-like walled gardens since 1995. The site was once the location of one of South Carolina’s first water-powered textile mills, and it now boasts pathways through perennial beds, playful structures and hardwood trees. Visitors stroll among massive oaks, maples, birches and hickories as they make their way toward the walled garden.
This is one of the few places in the Midlands where a forest floor goes virtually untouched, and the forest floor made up of mosses, vines, and shrubberies consists of truly native plants. A half-mile of river and woodland trails meander through the property, allowing for views of local wildlife and the shoreline of the Saluda River. The upper part of the property consists of three main spaces: the visitor’s center, the walled garden and an amphitheater. Brick paths spread out among the colorful flowers and gently rushing water feature that flows through the garden.
Throughout the year people gather here for wine tastings, plant sales and classes that are planned through a partnership with the Clemson Extension office. A list of the educational events that go on throughout the year can be found on the Riverbanks website, but a quiet, unplanned stroll is just as nice, as the area provides a relaxing reprieve from the hustle and bustle of your typical day.
As the weather begins to move into warmer, sunnier days, seek out some inspiration or quiet moments around the Palmetto State. South Carolina is known as a place where the pace is more comfortable, and the abundance of incredible public gardens gives some insight into why. These gardens provide a chance to take a mental health break while enjoying the fruits (or flowers) of this lively soil.
Here are some of the many other public gardens to visit in South Carolina: