Brookgreen Gardens is located near Murrells Inlet in South Carolina. The 9,127-acre property hosts a botanical garden in which a vast collection of sculptures is displayed.
Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this article, visited as a guest of Brookgreen Gardens.
“We are the finest museum of American figurative sculpture in the world,” said Lauren Joseph, the Director of Marketing, as we met by the Welcome Center of Brookgreen Gardens.
Brookgreen Gardens for American sculptures
The collection encompasses more than 2,000 artworks by over 430 artists. It was started by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntingdon, who purchased property in the area in 1930 because of the latter’s tuberculosis and need to spend winter in a warm climate for the sake of her health. By mid-1931 they had established Brookgreen Gardens as place for the protection of the region’s flora and fauna.
Anna Hyatt Huntingdon was herself a renowned sculptor. She created Joan of Arc, the first monument by a woman to be displayed publicly in New York City (it can be seen in the Riverside Park on the city’s Upper East Side). The couple subsequently invested in artworks, expanding the collection and supporting artists during the Great Depression of the early 1930s.
The sculptures at Brookgreen Gardens are displayed outdoors as well as in the Rainey Sculpture Pavilion, Offner Sculpture Center and Brown Sculpture Court.
Spanish moss on live oaks
Spanish moss hangs from the sprawling boughs of live oak trees that reminded me of the landscape that forms a backdrop for scenes in the movie 12 Years a Slave. The trees are known as live oaks because they are evergreens, retaining their foliage during winter.
Willows and palmettos, the state tree of South Carolina, can also be seen in the gardens.
The gardens are located on the site of a former plantation that once used slave labour to plant and harvest rice. Prior to the Civil War of 1861 to 1865, Georgetown County, in which Brookgreen Gardens is located, had more rice plantations than anywhere else in North America.
Brookgreen Gardens’ Live Oak Allée is formed by gnarled-looking trees with drooping branches. The trees are approximately 250 years old. They once formed a form of arboreal guard of honour lining the way towards the original plantation house, which has long since burnt to the ground.
In movies plantation houses are often depicted as grand mansions with vast verandas. That may be true of the houses elsewhere in the United States of America but I was informed that in South Carolina most of the buildings on plantations were rarely grander than a comfortable two-storey homes with a porch.
One of the former owners of the land on which Brookgreen Gardens now stands was Joseph Alston, a state governor of South Carolina. He married Theodosia, the daughter of Aaron Burr, the third Vice President of the United States and the man who shot Alexander Hamilton during a duel.
Footpaths lead between the various gardens and their sculptures, along Live Oak Allée, between pools and fountains, and around a butterfly-shaped garden. If you are interested in art and nature allow at least half a day to explore Brookgreen Gardens.
See the Brookgreen Gardens website for more information about the expansive property, which is located in the part of South Carolina that’s known as the Hammock Coast. The website has information relating to opening times and ticket prices.
The sculpture garden is just one aspect of Brookgreen Gardens. It also hosts a zoo with creatures native to the South Carolina’s Lowcountry, the region encompassing state’s four most southerly counties. The Lowcountry Trail, accessed along a boardwalk, is a way of exploring the history of the people who were once enslaved on the plantation.