Sumter, SC

Visit Swan Lake Iris Gardens for a Floral Treat

Leah O'Daniel

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Ever heard of Swan Lake? No, not the Tchaikovsky ballet. The floral wonderland in the midlands of South Carolina. Located in Sumter, this free public park is worth the day trip. It’s the only park in the United States to feature all eight species of swans as well as several Japanese Iris.

Swan Lake Iris Gardens began in 1927. Hamilton Carr Bland was cultivating his home with Japanese iris. When they failed, he consulted horticulturists. Then dug up the bulbs and threw them in the swamp. The next year, the once-private fishing retreat burst into bloom.

In 1938, another man, Mr. Heath Sr., deeded the acreage on the north side of Liberty Street to the city with the stipulation that Mr. Heath also develops it into a garden. Today, the two sides of the park are connected through the McDuffie overpass. An enclosed, footbridge that offers visitors access to both sides of this stunning garden.

Admission to the park is free and the hours are 7:30 AM through dusk. Once inside, visitors can expect to see swans, Canadian geese, ducks, herons, and other wildlife as they walk through the 150-acre park. There is a large, graveled walking path around the lake ripe with many blooming flowers, bushes, and trees. It’s perfect for all ages and does have restrooms throughout.

In May, the park hosts its annual Iris Festival over Memorial Day weekend. This festival is the oldest continuous festival in the state. During winter, guests can drive through the parking lot and backside of the gardens for the Festival of Lights. The annual Iris Festival is free and features local vendors. For $5, park-goers can get into Taste of the Gardens with live entertainment. Food and beverage are available for purchase. Camping chairs and blankets are welcomed, but no coolers.

To find this beautiful park, visit 822 West Liberty Street Sumter, SC 29150.

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