Brookgreen Gardens is located in Murrells Inlet, S.C. The “gardens” in the name underplays the myriad attractions of this destination. There are indeed plants and trees in beautifully landscaped settings. And there is also a small zoo. But it is the quantity and quality of the outdoor art that sets this place apart from most botanical gardens.
The gardens were founded by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1931 by purchasing and combining several adjacent defunct rice plantations, and serve as a backdrop for a portion of their extensive art collection. Focusing exclusively on American sculptors, either native-born or naturalized, the collection numbers more than 2000 works by 425 artists. This makes it the largest and most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculpture in the country.
It is impossible to pick a favorite sculpture. We will highlight three of the larger pieces that we particularly enjoyed. The first is Samson and the Lion, by Gleb Derujinsky (1888-1975). The artist depicted many Biblical scenes, and drew inspiration from the Byzantine art he remembered from his youth in Russia.
Next is The Fountain of the Muses, by Carl Milles (1875-1955). This 15-piece delight, completed in 1954, was the artist’s last major work. It depicts the Greek myth of the fountain sacred to the Muses, whose waters provided creative inspiration.
And last but not least, the largest work at Brookgreen, Pegasus, by Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966). This massive piece is carved from 60 tons of granite sourced in Mount Airy, N.C. Pegasus, the winged horse of mythology, is an ancient symbol of inspiration. The sculptor designed this work to symbolize the person born with vision and imagination who soars with Pegasus.
Leaving behind the sculptures for a moment, we entered Live Oak Allee. This section of the garden is a living work of art: an impressive double row of live oak trees, 200+ years old, draped with Spanish moss.
Rivers and creeks were important to the original plantation owners for transportation and as a source of water for their rice paddies. Later, the Huntingtons used barges on the waterways to transport their sculptures to the site. The waterways still exist at the margins of the gardens, and wooden viewing platforms allow visitors to take in the natural splendor.
We were on the lookout for alligators, but didn’t spot any!
All in all, Brookgreen Gardens is a wonderful way to spend anywhere from a few hours to an entire day or more, depending on your interests.
Myrtle Beach is the closest large tourist center for lodging. But if you get the chance, make a stop at nearby Pawley’s Island for a glimpse of a slower-paced life. The ocean, beach, and dunes are the quintessential Carolina Coast package.
Although we just left, we already want to return! We hope that you, too, will get the chance to discover this wonderful place.