A Visit to Brookgreen

– Posted in: Garden Visits

An allee of live oaks (Quercus virginiana) fills one of the central rooms of the garden at Brookgreen. It dates from the early 18th century and originally marked the entrance to the plantation.

While it may not be the best idea to admit that I’ve been spending time in the balmy south while gardens and gardeners up north are freezing, I had a chance to visit a public garden I’ve long wanted to see: Brookgreen, a renown sculpture garden and National Historic Landmark located in Murrels Inlet, South Carolina. I’ve always loved art and ornaments in gardens, and Brookgreen didn’t disappoint. Hollies, live oaks decked with Spanish moss, and camellias line the gorgeous mile-long entrance drive. (We even saw Southern Fox Squirrels, with their black heads and white ears on the way in!) Once we arrived at the Welcome Center, I picked up a map at the Welcome Center and wandered into the sculpture gardens beyond.

Brookgreen’s sculpture collection is more than a few steps above ordinary garden art. After all, how many of us can accommodate full-size sculptures of horses or lions in our gardens – or a life-size bronze of Orpheus and Eurydice saying their last good-bye?


Orpheus and Eurydice, Bronze, Nathaniel Choate (1899-1965)

The size of the collection is staggering. Opened in 1932 by founders and designers Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, Brookgreen features 1,200 pieces displayed in the garden as well as in a sculpture court and two indoor galleries. Overall, Brookgreen features a formal design, with classic garden rooms, ornamental ponds, and sculpture at every turn.

The Sculpture Court, located in the center of the garden

The Sculpture Court, located in the center of the garden

While the massive bronze and marble pieces were awe-inspiring, my favorite pieces were the smaller ones, including one of a female anhinga sheltering nestlings set on a simple brick base surrounded by ground covers. It would fit in even a small garden.

Group of Anhingas, Aluminum, Gustav Bohland (1897-1959)

Group of Anhingas, Aluminum, Gustav Bohland (1897-1959)

Since I am, by nature, an informal-garden type girl, I especially enjoyed the Children’s Garden, which featured winding paths and exuberant use of ornamental cabbages as ground cover. A driftwood archway marked the entrance to one pathway leading to sculptures of bears and butterflies.

The Children's Garden combines whimsical features with appealing sculpture.

The Children's Garden combines whimsical features with appealing sculpture.

Another piece in the Children’s Garden that I absolutely loved is a chimp cast in bronze sitting on a plinth set in a clump of now-dormant hydrangeas.

The Thinker, Bronze, Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998)

The Thinker, Bronze, Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998)

While undoubtedly the garden is more colorful in spring or summer, even in winter, Brookgreen features plants that will turn heads. The massive branches of the live oaks are thick with resurrection ferns, which dry up then come back to life when it rains. Branch tips are always thickly draped in that ever-present bromelliad, Spanish moss. Even the camellias come decorated with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).

Single cadastre with Spanish moss

Single camellia with Spanish moss

The garden promises to be even more beautiful as the weather warms. Massive plantings of daffodils were beginning to show color when we visited the garden, and will be soon followed by azaleas, dogwoods, and more. Whether you love sculpture or plants or both, Brookgreen is worth a visit.

Live oaks with resurrection ferns (Polypodium polypodioides)

Live oaks with resurrection ferns (Polypodium polypodioides)

If you go: If you’re visiting South Carolina’s “Grand Strand” and Myrtle Beach, make time early in your visit to stop by Brookgreen. Tickets cost $12 ($10 for seniors; $5 for children 6 to 12; children 5 and under are free) and are good for entrance to the garden for seven consecutive days. That’s a good thing since there’s lots more to see than the sculpture gardens: There are creek cruises, history and nature trails, exhibits of native animals and heritage farm animals, plus an aviary built over an existing swamp. See Brookgreen’s website for more information: www.brookgreen.org.

Len Ganeway, Bronze, Derek Wernher (1938)

Len Ganeway, Bronze, Derek Wernher (1938)

Barbara Ellis

Latest posts by Barbara Ellis (see all)

7 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Lisa at Greenbow February 17, 2009, 8:10 am

What a delightful tour through this garden Barbara. So glad you shared it with us. I too like the anhinga sculpture. The driftwood archway looks so invitingly DrZeussy. I also liked the man on the bench reading the news paper. It reminded me of the photo my BIL sent of a Snowwoman sitting on a bench in a park where he and a friend were birding. Even though the snowwoman was temporary it was fun to see. Someone there had a great imagination.

Glad you loved the anhinga sculpture! There were so many beautiful pieces
and Brookgreen, I couldn’t decide which ones to show. And I agree that the
driftwood arch is DrSeussy. I’m trying to figure out where I could build
something similar in my garden. It would take a while to amass that much
driftwood, though!

Cameron(Defining Your Home Garden) February 17, 2009, 10:32 am

It’s been years since I’ve been to Brookgreen — such a lovely place.

We recently went to Airlie Gardens in Wilmington. Yes, gardens in winter can be beautiful, too.


While I love to see the flowers of spring and summer–plus the colors of fall, I agree winter is beautiful in its own way as well. For one thing, it offers a wonderful opportunity for looking at the bones of a garden, and as a formal garden Brookgreen has loads to offer in that department. All the pathways, fountains, walls, and sculpture make each room distinct and really highlight the structure of the overall design. I’m not inclined toward formal design in my own garden, but I do like including formal elements. I love using a garden ornament set off by a pair or row of lower growing plants to create a little formal resting point within a larger, wilder design, for example.

Zach February 17, 2009, 4:37 pm

Thanks for the tour. I love the first picture. It looks like a wonderful place to visit.

I have started doing “trip report” posts on my blog lately, too. I have several very exciting trips planned for this spring which will provide plenty of blogging fodder.

It really is a wonderful garden, and I never get tired of the live oaks when I’m in the South. There’s just so much to see at Brookgreen! We only had time for a few hours, and I know the next time I visit I’ll see loads of things I missed on this trip. Can’t wait to see some of trip report posts!

Pam Kersting February 18, 2009, 7:29 pm

Brookgreen Gardens is indeed a wonderful place to spend time while in Myrtle Beach! I am so fortunate to live close enough to it to visit it when I want. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

You’re so lucky to live close to Brookgreen, and I can imagine that you go there often! There’s so much to see there that we didn’t have time for. I know I’d love to see the new river otter environment that’s opening up in spring. And of course I completely missed the summer flower displays, which are great, I’m sure. Even if you’re just visiting the Myrtle Beach area, their ticketing policy makes it easy to stop by the garden more than once, since the base ticket is good for seven days. What a great idea!

Anna/Flowergardengirl February 18, 2009, 11:40 pm

Fran when we go on vacation, we stay at the Litchfield Golf and Beach Resort just down the road from these gardens. I love the big horse statue out front and especially lit up at night. Your tour of this garden was grand and told it just right.

As you know if you’ve visited, my pictures only show the tip of the iceberg as far as the sculpture collection is concerned, and the gardens are marvelous to walk through. I love the sculpture of the lifesize horses at the entrance, too. It was really hard to decide which ones to take pictures of. Brookgreen also has a great store with everything from inexpensive keepsakes and a good selection of books (especially on local wildlife and plants) to signed sculptures.

In addition the sculpture, the gardens also feature a series of rectangular stone (concrete?) panels embossed with quotations and poems. Some are serious, but I also took a picture of one that features the following old favorite:

A wondrous bird is the pelican.
His beak can hold more than his bellican:
He takes in his beak
Enough food for a week.
But I’m dammed
If I see how the hellican.
Dixon Lanier Merritt

These are incorporated into the walls of the garden. It’s a really interesting feature.

Randy February 20, 2009, 7:35 am

Enjoyed your article. I’ve visited Brookgreen is search of a rare bird, we didn’t find the bird but found the gardens to be such a refined relaxing place. Hope to go back soon.

I’m sure there are loads of great places to bird on the property, especially along some of the nature trails. Next time I get there, I want to explore that part of the garden more. I’m a lister and am always running a list of birds seen on each trip. My best two birds for this winter’s trip are burrowing owls and a caracara, both seen in Florida.

linda March 3, 2009, 10:14 pm

What a beautiful garden! The live oaks are majestic and so full of character, and the sculptures are beautiful. I loved everything about this garden.

Being able to visit gardens across the country and around the world is one of the nicest perks of blogging!

[shareaholic app=”recommendations” id=”13070491″]