Yesterday I went out to Sumter, SC to visit Swan Lake and Iris Gardens. I had heard about these places, but didn’t know they were the same place!
Here is the story:
Swan Lake-Iris Gardens began in 1927 as a private fishing retreat for Hamilton Carr Bland, a local businessman. At the same time he was developing the 30 acres of swamp on what is now West Liberty Street, he was landscaping the grounds of his home with Japanese iris. They failed miserably, and after consulting expert horticulturists from as far away as New York, he ordered his gardener to dig up the bulbs and dump them at the swamp. The following spring, they burst into bloom. The accidental garden, referred to by Southern Living magazine a “lovely mistake,” has since been developed into one of the finest botanical gardens in the United States.
Following Bland’s lead, in 1938 Mr. A.T. Heath, Sr., deeded the additional acreage on the other side of Liberty Street to the city with the stipulation that Mr. Bland develop this as part of the gardens. Today, the Heath Gardens encompass most of the park’s 120 acres. Mr. Bland deeded the Bland Gardens to the city in 1949. The two gardens are joined by the McDuffie Overpass, a gift to the city from the McDuffie family in 1994. The most recent addition is the Heath Pavilion, opened in 2002 at the rear of the Heath Gardens on property given to the city by the Heath family in 1998.
Originally imported by Mr. Bland in the late 1920’s, the Australian Black swans have been in residence the longest, and some of the birds living in the garden at present are their descendants. Other species were added over the years, with the donation of Bewick swans in 1997 by Yuasa-Exide Corporation completing the collection. Canada geese, mallards, egrets, herons and anhingas also call the gardens home.
The only public park in the United States to feature all eight swan species, Swan Lake-Iris Gardens is also home to some of the nation’s most intensive plantings of Japanese iris, which bloom yearly in mid to late May and last until the beginning of June. The garden also boasts many other floral attractions, including colorful camellias, azaleas, day lilies, and Japanese magnolias. A Braille Trail enables the sight-impaired to enjoy the scents and sensations of the gardens.
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to photograph. Overcast skies, about 73 degrees, and a Tuesday morning, so it wasn’t crowded at all.
I was amazed at how well planned and kept the place is. Very clean, which is hard with that many geese/swans!