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Summer 2016


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Oak Allé
Oak Allé

Garden of Delights

Donna and Warren Greene have had their fair share of moving, travels and adventures. They have lived in nine states, including Connecticut, Texas and Indiana. They hulaed on the Hawaiian islands, listened to authentic reggae in the Bahamas, strolled the dunes of the Outer Banks and gazed upon the stone reliefs of Mount Rushmore.

After moving to Murrells Inlet seven years ago, the Greenes have found what they consider their personal retreat, with tropical flowers in their front yard and the sandy beaches and salt-filled breezes of the Atlantic just a few miles from their home. While they regularly hear the sound of the Sirens calling them to the ocean, there’s another paradise nearby that continues to beckon them – Brookgreen Gardens.

“The gardens are breathtaking. There are colorful flowers and foliage, artistry and sculpture, animals and events. You can tell by how well the gardens are manicured and the sculptures are cared for that the people who work here love the gardens as much as we do,” said Donna. “It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.”

Beautiful may just be an understatement. Besides its beauty, of which there is an abundance, Brookgreen Gardens has a rich and storied past, and the history of the gardens is as interesting as its horticulture.

Brookgreen Gardens Brookgreen Gardens
Fighting Stallions (left) and Bob Jewell, President and CEO (right)

The History

Brookgreen Gardens sits on the site of four 18th and 19th century plantations and derives its name from one of those, Brookgreen Plantation. One of the others, the Oaks Plantation, was where Joseph Alston (South Carolina Governor from 1812-1814) lived with his wife Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr. Theodosia mysteriously dis-appeared when the ship she was on to visit her father was lost at sea. Scenes from the American Revolution and the Civil War played out on present-day Brookgreen Gardens, and it’s said George Washington spent the night there while on his southern tour in the early 1790s. These plantations are also where Golden Big Grain Rice, a precursor to today’s long grain rice, was derived.

Although the plantation houses are no longer standing, visitors can see the impressive rice mill chimney, which once belonged to Laurel Hill Plantation, standing like a beacon among the trees. The Springfield Plantation was also housed on the land that’s now Brookgreen Gardens.

The Fountain of the Muses
The Fountain of the Muses

The Huntingtons

The story of today’s Brookgreen Gardens began in the early 1890s when young Anna Vaugn Hyatt was asked by her sister to assist with a sculpture of an animal. Anna’s talents were soon uncovered and she began her journey of becoming a prolific and world-renowned sculptor.

Anna was quite an impressive figure. According to, Anna was earning more than $50,000 a year with her sculptures by 1912. She is known as one of the finest American animal sculptors of the 20th century and has created work showcased in many private and public locations throughout the country and around the world.

In 1923 at age 43, Anna married heir and philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington. In 1930, they purchased 9,127 acres of property between the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean. Although it was originally planned to be the winter home of the Huntingtons, due to Anna’s struggle with tuberculosis, Anna and Archer fell in love with the area and founded a nonprofit corporation to protect it. Both admirers of art and nature, they decided to use a portion of the land to showcase outdoor sculpture in the midst of native plants and animals. Thus, Brookgreen Gardens was born and opened to the public in 1932.

Sid Abney, manager of guest services (left) and Katherine Rowe, manager of horticulture (right)

Horticulture, Sculpture and Wildlife

The gardens are a feast for the eyes and a treat for the senses. They were designed by Anna in the shape of an outstretched butterfly, and her design remains today. Each space in each garden has been meticulously planned and planted, making for interesting, peaceful and dynamic displays with explosions of colors and textures.

Bob Jewell is the president and CEO of Brookgreen Gardens. He is easy with a smile and greets guests, employees and volunteers with a sunny disposition and a word or two of good wishes. Jewell describes Brookgreen as a “national treasure,” and his advice to guests is to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds them at Brookgreen.

“It’s hard to find anything better than this and it’s located here, right in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina,” Jewell said. “This is the one place you can go without programming every move and having to stick to a schedule. As you look around and take it all in, the peace and beauty of the gardens sort of sinks into your soul. Relax and enjoy it.”

Guests like the Greenes do just that. They stroll along the butterfly’s wings hand in hand with their families, and take in the seasonal blooms that Katherine Rowe, manager of horticulture for Brookgreen Gardens, and the horticultural teams painstakingly plan, organize, plant and nurture.

Brookgreen Gardens Murrells Inlet Santee Cooper Brookgreen Gardens Murrells Inlet Santee Cooper Brookgreen Gardens Murrells Inlet Santee Cooper Brookgreen Gardens Murrells Inlet Santee Cooper
Clockwise from top left: Lioness and Cub, Eat More Beef, The Bat, Peacocks

“No two days are ever the same at Brook-green Gardens, as new flowers bloom daily and the horticultural exhibits change frequently,” Rowe explained. “We have a great team of horticulturalists, and we have a lot of creative freedom with planning and designing. We have both small scale and larger scale renovations, and a lot of day-to-day maintenance. We also make sure we’re designing spaces so they complement the natural environment and enhance the experience of viewing the sculptures.”

Rowe said the changes in the gardens keep them interesting and new for guests and for employees. Her favorite areas of the gardens change regularly, although she said her all-time favorite part of the gardens is the stately live Oak Allée, where these goliaths with their moss curtains transport guests back to another time and place.

Most importantly, Rowe explained, “People are really very happy when they’re here.”

Sid Abney also believes that guests’ enjoyment of the gardens is of utmost importance. Abney, manager of guest services, and his staff and volunteers greet guests as they enter the gate, assist with tickets, answer questions at the welcome center and lead garden tours. He said first-time visitors are usually surprised at everything Brookgreen has to offer – interesting history, beautiful gardens, amazing sculpture, old rice fields and even a zoo.

Brookgreen Gardens Santee Cooper Brookgreen Gardens Santee Cooper
Sandy in Defined Space (left) and Siberian Ram (right)

“People never get tired of seeing the beauty of the gardens. There’s a blend of beauty, nature and history you don’t find everywhere,” he said. “It’s our own little piece of paradise.”

The uniqueness of the gardens not only comes from its horticulture, but also from the fact that it’s an outdoor sculpture garden. The sculpture collection exhibited within the gardens is the largest and most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculpture in an outdoor setting in the United States, and ranges from the early 19th century to present day. More than 1,400 works by 350 artists are integrated throughout the indigenous and exotic flowers and foliage.

Many of the sculptures interspersed around Brookgreen are Anna Hyatt Huntington’s. Some sculptures, like those in the Children’s Garden, are whimsical and coy, peaking out behind trees or frolicking among the flowers. Said Rowe, “The big pig sculpture, Eat More Beef by Sandy Scott, makes quite an impression on both children and adults.”

Others, like the Fighting Stallions by Anna Hyatt Huntington that greets guests at the entrance, are powerful, striking and larger than life. And the Fountain of the Muses by Carl Milles, a favorite amongst guests, has figures that leap over the waters of one of the many fountains dotting the grounds.

Brookgreen Gardens LEGO Exhibit Brookgreen Gardens LEGO Exhibit
Giant Corn Spider from the special LEGO exhibition (left) and Group of Anhingas (right)

Along with numerous awards and recognitions, Brookgreen has earned accreditation from both the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It is also designated a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The awards and recognitions are well deserved, but most visitors come for the unique experience that is Brookgreen Gardens, a historic and cultural center that exudes folly, peace and poetry. As their tagline reads, Brookgreen Gardens is “Ever Changing. Simply Amazing.”

“I don’t know if there’s any other place in the world like Brookgreen,” said Abney.

Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to display figurative sculpture by American artists and to preserve regional plants, animals, and history. Regular admission tickets allow visitors to explore the gardens for seven consecutive days. Those tickets include admission to the gardens, Native Wildlife Zoo, Lowcountry Center and Trail, and the Enchanted Storybook Forest. There are also boat rides, a butterfly house, back road history excursions and special events. Visit for details.