Looking for a place where art, nature and history combine? Set your GPS for Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, where these attractions all come together seamlessly in a picturesque setting.
Brookgreen was founded in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, who were huge supporters of the arts. Archer Huntington had become a millionaire through his work in the railroad industry while his wife, Anna, was an award- winning sculptor. The couple helped to establish a number of museums across the country.
The pair bought the land for Brookgreen in 1930 initially to build a retreat home for Anna, who was recovering from a bout of tuberculosis. Instead, they decided to incorporate the property into a private nonprofit. Their goal was to offer a place to exhibit and preserve American figurative sculptures and Southeastern native plants and animals.
Today, the 9,000-plus-acre venue has the rare designation of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, designated as a National Historic Landmark and accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Art lovers will want to head to the American sculpture collection, which is one of the most comprehensive in the entire country featuring more than 2,000 pieces by 430 artists. Guests may see the figures displayed outdoors among the gardens, or inside three galleries and a storage and research facility. Though sculpture is the main draw, patrons will also get to see a number of artistic media on display, including etchings, paintings and more. Their galleries host a number of exhibitions throughout the year, so be sure to check out their website to see what will be on site during your visit.
If you’ve got a green thumb or want to go to a place where you can appreciate someone else’s talent, head to their plentiful botanical garden sections including one for children and another for kitchen needs. If you are looking for a particular plant, check out their website’s comprehensive list of seasonal blooms. Before leaving, take note of the live oak trees on the property, as they date back to the 1700s.
Those who can’t resist animals will be drawn to the Lowcountry Zoo, featuring a menagerie of wildlife. Some have been bred and raised in captivity while others were brought to the zoo for rehabilitation after being injured and cannot be released to the wild again. Some of the animals on display include bald eagles, river otters, red foxes, herons, egrets and alligators. Guests are also likely to see wildlife that call the gardens home but are not looked after by staff. Staff encourage folks to keep their distance from these residents.
An unforgettable way to experience Brookgreen Gardens is via their excursions. The Creek Excursion is available March through November. Guests can board a 48-foot pontoon boat and meander down the property’s creeks. The property was the site of former plantations and you will see historic rice fields as well as hear about the role enslaved African-Americans played in building the economy in the region. While on the boat, keep an eye out for a number of native wildlife such as osprey and alligators. If you know you want to go on this tour, be sure to buy a ticket as soon as you get to Brookgreen, as they often sell out.
Another can’t-miss tour is the Trekker Excursion (also from April to November). Patrons board a small bus to view a number of historic sites, including a Civil War earthen fort, a rice mill chimney and plantation cemetery. The tour also includes a visit to a spot with a panoramic view of the Waccamaw River.
In April 2022, Brookgreen Gardens unveiled the $20 million “Campaign for the Next Generation.” The nonprofit is raising funds with a goal of creating a new art gallery space, a new conservatory, expanding Lowcountry history exhibits and creating an exhibit in the Lowcountry Zoo for the endangered red wolf.
By Gina Gallucci-White