Have you ever wondered if heaven could be found on earth? Is this heaven we search for a place of perfection or simply a momentary oasis? Each of us searches for places of perfect solitude and tranquility where we can contemplate, reminisce or simply gain solace in order to better handle the craziness of our world today. Never in all my years of travel have I been exposed to so bucolic a setting as Brookgreen Gardens.
Brookgreen Gardens is located in Murells Inlet a small fishing community just south of Myrtle Beach, SC. For the past week or so we have been ensconced in a condo near the Atlantic Ocean on Pawley’s Island just down the road from Murells Inlet. This area is rich with iconic historical and cultural sites. In fact, descendants of Aaron Burr, the Vice President of the United States under Thomas Jefferson, owned one of the original plantations–aptly named “The Oaks” as oak trees abound in this area. Eventually the Oaks was sold to a farmer and prior to the American Civil War most of the surrounding plantations including Oaks prospered because of the production of rice. The rice industry only thrived because of slavery–the wealth of most farmers was based as much on the value of human capital as it was on the land. Once the war ended and slavery was abolished the plantations went bankrupt and were sold.
Between 1929 and 1932, Anna and Archer Huntington visited this area (for health reasons), fell in love with it and decided to purchase four plantations covering an area of over 9,100 acres. Their initial idea was to create a winter retreat, but over time a series of gardens were developed that ultimately evolved into the largest figurative sculpture garden in the world. Starting with works of Anna, herself a sculptress, todays gardens contain over 1,440 sculptures that are nestled among fountains, ponds, glens and wooded areas. Getting a sculpture into the collection is not easy since only an American artist’s work is accepted (after much goading I did learn that on occasion some Canadian sculptures have been acquired by Brookgreen as well). The art is both purchased as well as donated with some sculpturers even directly approaching Brookgreen about being part of the collection.
When visiting the Gardens the entry fee allows for unlimited visits for seven days. I can attest that this is a good approach as we have already been back for two visits–each lasting the better half of a day. I think it quite likely that we will squeeze in one more visit before we get back on the road. I have attached a number of photos that hardly do justice to Brookgreen, but at least give one a taste for the beauty that is Brookgreen Gardens. However, before I finish it is important to mention that one can also visit the Gardens for a history of the former plantations: there are self-guided walking tours, boating tours and guided tours that breathe life into the past through displays that show rice farming techniques and that discuss the slaves that were responsible for the rice crop that paid for the financial success of the local gentry. There is also a small zoo with houses birds and animals that typically live in this area.
Brookgreen Gardens is one more example of the gems that exist throughout our great country. Go, see, enjoy and create new memories. This final photo is a memorial to the Huntingtons:
Languid days may await us as we travel the roadways ahead,
Often surprised by sites that are both natural and invented.
Minds are massaged and teased, into seeking what is unknown,
With open hearts embrace the world, and revel in each discovery.
Searching brings much joy and wonder to the day,
The possibilities tease us, and make us yearn for even more.
Build on the hunger for knowledge, and take time to quench the thirst,
We are pilgrims who are wandering with no reason to stop.
There is peace in knowing, and satisfaction in seeing,
Certainly the experience will enlighten and nourish the soul.