Richmond is blessed with many philanthropic treasures that give its citizens and tourists places to celebrate our love for the city. Two of the best examples can be found among the natural and cultivated beauty at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Maymont.
Grace Arents donated the land for the 25-year-old botanical gardens after it had been left to her by her famed philanthropic uncle, Lewis Ginter. Maymont was given to the city by James and Sallie Dooley and opened as a park in 1926 and has been a jewel in Richmond’s crown since.
On a recent trip to South Carolina, I experienced Brookgreen Gardens, which boasts one of the world’s largest outdoor sculpture gardens. The grounds are carved from several old plantations and combine the best of the flora and fauna found at the 80-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens with the expansive grounds, natural serenity and native animals found among the 100 acres at Maymont.
Combine the best of those two with the entirety of Richmond’s sculptures and you may approach the bounty found at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet in South Carolina.
It was created by philanthropists Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington — a famous sculptor in her time — in 1931 as the first public sculpture garden in the United States. The National Historic Landmark contains more than 1,200 works of art from 350 sculptors spanning the early 1800s to the present.
The sculptures are placed in more than 50 acres of gardens and landscape settings and more than 300 acres of gardens and facilities, featuring more than 2,000 species of native plants, native wildlife, historical and cultural exhibits and tours and excursions.
The gardens are heavily shaded by hundreds of southern live oak draped in Spanish moss – which on their own are natural works of art. There are at least two sections of the garden planned specifically around allees of live oak and there may not be a more appropriate garden accessory in South Carolina than the beautifully twisted, hulking seacoast hardwood. There are also hundreds of magnolia, cypress and dogwood trees throughout the gardens.
Walking the grounds is encouraged and lovingly worthwhile, but to see every area of the garden and study all of the sculptures could take all day. Just the main gardens could take hours – there is so much to see.
“Youth Taming the Wild” is a striking welcome for visitors long before they reach the welcome center. It rests on a peninsula in the center of a bricked in pond encircled by a walkway. The distance from the gate to the gardens is more than a mile, so of course one may need a rest stop before taking on the rest of the garden.
The Lowcountry Zoo has animals native to South Carolina, such as river otters, alligators, foxes, deer, owls, hawks, bald eagles and wild turkeys. Overall, the zoo is very comparable to Maymont’s Children’s Farm, Nature Center and wildlife habitats rolled into one.
The Huntington family left more than 9,000 acres of land in the area between the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean to be protected from development, including Brookgreen Gardens, Huntington Beach State Park and the Oaks Plantation.
Another statue, “The Visionaries” by Anna Hyatt Huntington shows that the Huntington family were proud of their contribution. She portrayed her husband and herself allegorically, expressing the timelessness of their contribution to the arts and the environment.
I’m not knocking Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden or Maymont. I love them and Richmond should be thankful and proud that we have them. It’s just that Brookgreen Gardens is so mind-blowingly large in its scope, beauty and largesse that any city’s gardens would pale in comparison. Hats off to Mrs. Huntington, who planned and contributed to the gardens for more than 40 of her 97 years.
Brookgreen Gardens is located along the Grand Strand on U.S. Highway 17 between Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island. It is about 30 minutes south of Myrtle beach and an hour north of Charleston.
1931 Brookgreen Drive
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
843-235-6000 or Brookgreen.org