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Swan Lake-Iris Gardens

Swan Lake-Iris Gardens | Sumter, SC

Sumter SC - Swan Lake Iris Gardens

Photo credit: City of Sumter, SC |

A Lovely Mistake

That’s what Southern Living called a local Sumter businessman’s decision in 1927 to dump Japanese iris bulbs into a nearby swamp after they failed to produce on the grounds of his home. The following spring, they burst into glorious bloom. The result? One of the finest botanical gardens in the United States, and well worth a visit.

The grounds cover about 150 acres and are home to the Iris Festival, held each Memorial Day weekend when the flowers are at the peak of their blooming season. As South Carolina’s oldest continuous festival, it’s gained a reputation throughout the Southeast for its beauty and family-friendly fun.

Now, what about the swans? Among nature’s most graceful and appealing creatures, swans are the stuff of legends. Perhaps it’s because they generally mate for life (although occasional “divorces” may occur). Or, it may be their longevity. Depending on which research you read, swans can live up to 30+ years in captivity (much less when they are vulnerable to predators).

Predecessors to some of these particular Black Australian swans were originally imported in the early 1930s by the garden’s founder, Hamilton Carr Bland. This is the only public park in the U.S. to feature all eight swan species, including Royal White Mute Swans, Black-Necked Swans, the Trumpeter, Whistler and several more.

WOW factor: It’s not often you can find grace and beauty in such accessible surroundings. If you go during the height of blooming season, your camera will get a workout. This is a kid-friendly destination, and picnic tables and pathways invite exploration. Yelp reviewers give the lake and gardens five stars.

Hint: Visitors are asked not to feed the swans, as highly processed bread products are not good for their health. And although swans don’t bite (no teeth), they can pinch, so respect their long necks and habitat. You’ll also see many other birds, including several species of ducks, geese and anhingas, but arguably, these beauties are the crème de la crème.

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