Whoever planted the allée of live oaks adorning today’s Brookgreen Gardens had some amazing forethought, since these 250- to 300-year-old specimens now serve as a welcoming entry to what’s become the largest collection of American figurative sculpture displayed outdoors in the country. This natural alleyway of breathtaking live oak (Quercus virginiana) trees—planted in the 1700s—is part of a 9,127-acre natural and cultivated landscape that’s considered the “floral jewel of South Carolina’s coast,” and are considered a work of art in themselves.
American philanthropist and Hispanic studies scholar Archer Huntington founded Brookgreen Gardens in the early 1930s, though he originally purchased the property as a place for place for his wife, noted sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington (her Joan of Arc statue in Manhattan’s Riverside Park was the city’s first public statue of a real woman, and it was sculpted by a woman to boot) to recover from tuberculosis.
Live Oak Allée even alters its appearance depending on the time of year. During the garden’s Summer Light: Art by Night (which includes a display of nine light installations that illuminate the property on various evenings throughout June, July, and August), an array of bright hues transform the allée into a magical wonderland. During the winter holidays’ Nights of a Thousand Candles, multitudes of sparkling lights dangle from its tree branches. Then there are the seemingly endless array of caladiums—plants with multicolored leaves in shades of green, pink, red, striped, and speckled—that members of the Horticulture staff and volunteers plant beneath the trees each May. With them, Live Oak Allée becomes a flora-filled extravaganza.
In general, live oaks like the ones in Brookgreen Gardens are distinguishable by their massive size, and the fact that they’re always losing and replacing new leaves, so that they never go dormant.
They’re also naturally hung with Spanish moss, a stunning feature that gives the space an ethereal quality, making this tunnel-like pathway feel like it’s straight out of a fairytale. Not to mention the perfect place to escape the summer heat.
Along with Live Oak Allée, Brookgreen Gardens are home to more than 2,000 sculptural works ranging from marble to wood, as well as a labyrinth, butterfly garden, and a Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve where you’ll find alligators, red fox, and river otters.
Know Before You Go
Brookgreen Gardens is open from 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. daily. General admission tickets are good for seven consecutive days and cost $22/adults (ages 13-64), $20/seniors (ages 65 and older), and $12/kids (ages 4-12). Children three and under are free. Tickets include access to all gardens and galleries, the Lowcountry Zoo, and exhibits in the Lowcountry History Center. There are also several eateries, including a cafe, restaurant, and a BYO picnic area, onsite.
The gardens host various events throughout the year, including children’s activity days, yoga in the garden, and photography walks. There are also a selection of daily tours (every month except December) to choose from. Tickets for these cost extra, and include a Creek Excursion (March through November), featuring a look at the former rice plantations—and the role of the enslaved Africans who worked those plantations—on which the property now sits, and a visit to the local cemeteries (January and February). Prices and times vary, so check ahead.
Unfortunately, pets are not allowed, except for specially trained service animals. Bicycles are welcome, but only on the gardens’ hard surface (automobile accessible) roads, not on any of the walking paths.
The gardens are handicapped accessible. Look for them off the US Highway 17 Bypass, between Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island along the state’s Hammock Coast.