While I don’t like working in gardens, I do enjoy visiting them, and photographing the flowers. That’s part of what brought me to Swan Lake and Iris Gardens in Sumter. The Iris bloom from around mid-to-late May until early June. Not a large window to partake of them, so timing is crucial. If you miss them, no worries, there are blooms to see throughout the year and there are the swans. If you’re really into irises, the annual Iris festival is every Memorial Day weekend. On my visit, I timed my trip to avoid the crowds.
I went mid-May and wasn’t sure the flowers would be blooming, but some were. It’d probably be better to go later in the month. It’d be nice if it said on the website when they were actively blooming, especially with spring coming early some years. Despite that, I had a good time. It wasn’t just the flowers I wanted to see, but the swans as well. This is the only public park in the entire United States with all eight swan species of the world represented.
And that’s not all to see in these 150 acres. In the playground is a Seagrave Firetruck for kids (little and grown up kids) to climb into. Sculptures dot the dot the grounds. Three of my favorite were the Untitled Boy Sculpture, the Recovery Sculpture, and the Flying Swans in Bland Garden across the street. Besides the Japanese Irises, there’s the Chocolate Garden, Butterfly Garden and a Braille Garden.
The Butterfly Garden is self-explanatory, the flowers attract butterflies, but the Chocolate and Braille Gardens are quite unique. In the former, the plants are brown like chocolate or smell like chocolate. I have to take their word for it because I didn’t smell that, but maybe because not many were blooming. The Braille Garden has signs in Braille and those who are visually impaired can smell and touch the plants. A really cool idea.
It’s interesting note: the garden is the result of a mistake. This was once a private fishing place owned by Hamilton Carr Bland, a local businessman. When the Japanese irises didn’t grow after being planted, Carr told the gardener to dig them up and toss the bulbs into the swamp. The next year, the iris burst into bloom.
Today one can wander around the two gardens, one on either side of West Liberty St. Both have irises and swans. The Heath Garden is the one with the lake and playground. Bland Garden features a boardwalk through cypress trees. An elevated crosswalk connects the two and there’s an elevator for those who can’t utilize the stairs.
The garden is open 7:30 to dusk every day except for during the Iris Festival. There’s a visitor center which is open Monday through Friday 8:30 to 5.
How to Get There:
822 West Liberty Street/SC763 in Sumter
What’s Close By:
Downtown Sumter with Opera House
Manchester State Forest