Brookgreen Gardens

Guests of all ages enjoy meeting native animals at Brookgreen’s Lowcountry Zoo. 

While this time of year is normally a transition time from spring to summer displays, Brookgreen Gardens’ director of marketing Lauren Joseph said, “There is always something blooming.

“One of the best things about visiting Brookgreen in late spring and summer is the peaceful nature of the gardens.”

It’s also a wonderful time to appreciate what Joseph called “the four pillars of Brookgreen Gardens,” the American Sculpture Collection, the Botanical Gardens, the Lowcountry Zoo and the Lowcountry History Excursions.

Laid out on more than 9,000 acres, Brookgreen Gardens is at 1931 Brookgreen Drive in Murrells Inlet, off U.S. Highway 17 Bypass.

It’s open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Except for service animals, animals are not allowed into Brookgreen, nor may they be left in vehicles.

For ticket information, visit the website, www.brookgreen.org, or call 843-235-6000.

American Sculpture Collection

According to Brookgreen’s website, the American Sculpture Collection has more than 2,000 works by 425 artists, and in the words of Wayne Craven, author of “Sculpture in America,” it is “unequaled in its size, focus on figurative works, visibility of the sculpture to the visitor, and integration within a garden setting.”

Indoor galleries at Brookgreen, such as those in the Rainey Sculpture Pavilion, present exhibits of smaller sculptures, as well as paintings, etchings, and other artworks by internationally-known artists, the website says.

The Stanley and Naomi Bleifeld Gallery, which opened in February 2017, includes work by Anna Hyatt Huntington, Gertrude Lathrop, Stanley Bleifeld, Grainger McKoy, Sandy Scott and Kent Ullberg, among others.

“We are,” said Joseph, “the finest museum of American figurative sculpture, definitely in the United States, and probably in the world.”

Botanical Gardens

The American Gardens Association has recently recognized Brookgreen Gardens with its Award for Garden Excellence.

This annual award is given to a public garden that exemplifies the highest standards of horticultural practices, according to www.publicgardens.org.

“That puts us in a peer group with Atlanta Gardens and other major botanical gardens in the United States,” Joseph said.

The Live Oak Allee is comprised of 250-year-old Live Oak trees that were planted in the early 1700s when what is now Brookgreen Gardens was four rice plantations, the Brookgreen website says.

Other gardens include the Butterfly Garden with four distinct areas and the Palmetto Garden, named for the use of South Carolina’s state tree, the Sabal palmetto.

Lowcountry Zoo

One of five institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in South Carolina, all of the native animals in the Lowcountry Zoo were either bred and raised in captivity, or have sustained a major disability due to injury.

“In either case,” Joseph said, “these animals could not survive in the wild.

“So many people have a bad connotation of zoos, but all of our raptors have been injured and rehabilitated, and we take care of them for the rest of their lives.”

Some of the native species visitors will see in the zoo are alligators, bald eagles, grey foxes, hawks, owls, red foxes, river otters, white-tailed deer, ducks, and herons and egrets.

According to the website, “Brookgreen Gardens is also home to many wild species that make the greater area of the gardens their home.

“When you visit, you are likely to see fox squirrels, wild turkeys, and snakes,” none of which should be approached.

Lowcounty History Excursions

Brookgreen Gardens is a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is part of the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor and the Eastern South Carolina Heritage Region.

Through November, Brookgreen offers The Creek Excursion, The Trekker Excursion, and The Oaks Excursion.

The 45-minute Creek Excursion allows guests to cruise the creeks on a 48-foot pontoon boat as an interpreter recounts the landscape’s history.

The website says visitors will pass historic rice fields, now home to alligators, waterfowl and osprey, and will learn about “the role of enslaved Africans in the cultivation of the rice crop and the shaping of the history of the Lowcountry.”

Part of the Lowcountry History program is the Gullah Geechee Program, led by Ron Daise, head of the education department.

“People don’t realize that he is the same Mr. Ron that a lot of kids now in their 20s and 30s remember from Nickelodeon’s ‘Gullah Gullah Island’ TV show,” Joseph said.

Daise, a Gullah descendant, presents programs about the culture, food, language and history of the Gullah Geechee people in the Wall Lowcountry Center Auditorium on Wednesdays at 1 p.m.

Admission to those programs is free with regular garden admission.

The Trekker Excursion allows guests to ride along with an interpreter and see an avenue of historic Live Oaks, a plantation cemetery, a Civil War earthen fort site, and an historic rice mill chimney.

The excursion also offers a unique view of the Waccamaw River from one of the area’s highest bluffs.

According to the website, “The Trekker travels over dirt roads which are quite bumpy in places. If you have a physical condition that may be affected by riding over rough terrain, we suggest you consider an alternate excursion such as the pontoon boat excursion.”

In the comfort of an air-conditioned mini-bus, guests ride to the site of the Oaks Plantation and learn the history of the prominent Alston family during the colonial and antebellum eras during the Oaks Excursion, the Brookgreen website explains.

The Alston family cemetery and the slave village grounds are part of the excursion, as is a view of the Long Leaf Pine forest.

Tickets for the Lowcountry History excursions are $8 for adults and $4 for children in addition to garden admission. The tickets are available at the Wall Lowcountry Center.

There are age restrictions for children, so be sure to check the website for excursion guidelines.

“As the Myrtle Beach area gets bigger, a short drive south on [U.S.] 17 will bring you to the Brookgreen entrance,” said Joseph. “We have heard many guests say that just driving in, they feel their blood pressure decreasing. Being surrounded by nature and art is good for your health.”

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I'm the assistant editor of the Carolina Forest Chronicle. I write news and business features. Have a great story idea? Please call me at 843-602-9306.

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