Where are Swan Lake Iris Gardens?
The gardens are located at 822 West Liberty Street (US 763) in Sumter, South Carolina. For maps, please click here.
What are the park hours and admission charges?
The park is open daily (including holidays) from 7:30 a.m. until dusk, except under extreme weather conditions. There is no charge for admission.
Do I need to make reservations to bring my group to the gardens?
If you are interested in exploring the gardens on your own, no reservations are necessary. For a docent-guided group tour, please call the Visitors Center at (803) 436-2640. Please give two weeks notice. Individual guided tours are not available at this time; however, as the successful Swan Lake docent program continues to grow, this may be possible in the future.
Who designed the gardens?
The original gardens were designed in the 1920’s by their founder, Sumter businessman Hamilton Carr Bland. The Heath family was so impressed with his design work in the Bland Gardens that they made his also designing the Heath Gardens a condition of their gift to the city in 1938! The gardens are kept in top condition through the combined efforts of the City Parks Staff, Master Gardeners and the Friends of Swan Lake.
How many people visit Swan Lake annually?
It is difficult to determine an exact number; however, based on brochure and map distribution and traffic counts during special events, we estimate annual visits to exceed 250,000. Swan Lake Iris Gardens is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state, with visitors from across the United States, Canada and several Asian and European countries, and has been featured in Southern Living and Better Homes & Gardens.
How long are the trails?
The path around the lake in the Heath Gardens is ¾ mile long. The Bland Garden path is much shorter, and features a Cypress Boardwalk that extends approximately 1,000 feet into the swamp. The paths are generally level, with a few gentle rises and small bridges, and are suitable for exercise walkers.
How long does it take to visit the gardens?
Recommended time for a complete tour is one and a half to two hours, but many of our guests make a full day of it!
Are the gardens handicap-accessible?
The garden paths and all buildings are wheelchair accessible. Unfortunately, the City is unable to offer wheelchair rental or loans at this time.
Can I rent a golf cart to tour the gardens?
Hamilton Bland envisioned the gardens complex as a leisurely walking tour, and visitors are encouraged to experience nature at close hand. Golf carts are available by previous arrangement for tour groups. They are not available for individuals and cannot be rented.
Is there someplace to eat at the gardens?
Yes! The Iris Market is open from Thursday through Saturday, offering sandwiches, hot dogs, salads and other treats. The hours are 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 12-5 p.m. on Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.
Plants and Animals
When do the Japanese iris bloom?
Blooming season for the Japanese iris is mid-May until early June, with peak bloom time near the end of May. If your trip doesn’t fall during iris season, don’t worry—there are dozens of other seasonal flowers to enjoy!
Can I buy iris plants at the gardens?
Iris plants are available from the Master Gardeners during the Sumter Iris Festival every Memorial Day weekend. They are not available for sale from the City of Sumter.
Why don’t the swans fly away?
The swans undergo a surgical procedure at birth that prevents sustained flight. They are able to fly for short distances, but cannot gain the altitude to enable them to migrate. Even if the swans could fly away, chances are good that they wouldn’t want to! Most of the birds at Swan Lake were born here, and many of the Australian and Mute Swans are descendents of the birds that were first brought to the gardens in the 1930’s. The ducks, geese, anhingas, herons and other birds at Swan Lake are mostly migratory wild birds that enjoy the park’s hospitable climate.
Are the birds friendly?
Generally, yes. However, visitors are reminded that the birds are wild animals and are not pets. During certain times of the year they may exhibit territorial behavior as a way of protecting their nesting areas. Swans can become aggressive when provoked, so visitors who are seen chasing, hitting or throwing things at the birds will be asked to leave. Canada geese travel in flocks, which some visitors can find intimidating, but they are usually not aggressive. Picking up or otherwise attempting to handle the birds can be dangerous and is not permitted.
Are there alligators in the pond?
Although the City makes every effort to keep Swan Lake free of predators, it is a natural area and there is always the possibility of visits by alligators from adjoining creeks. This only happens occasionally, and any alligators sighted within recent years have been babies, seldom exceeding two or three feet in length. If you should encounter an alligator, please do not approach it, provoke it or attempt to harm it in any way, and immediately report its presence to a park ranger or any member of the park staff. Snakes are very seldom seen in the gardens, but should you notice one, please follow the same procedure. You will notice a large number of turtles in the gardens, including snapping turtles, so please do not approach them.
General Rules and Regulations
Am I allowed to feed the birds?
We are sorry, but it is not allowed. The birds receive a normal diet that supplies their nutritional requirements. Guests are asked not to bring bread, sugared cereal or any products featuring protein and flavored additives. It has been found that feeding the birds these products has a detrimental effects on their overall health and well-being. We appreciate your cooperation by not feeding the waterfowl.
Can I take photographs in the gardens?
Photography is allowed at any area of the gardens; however, photographers are encouraged to respect the privacy of other visitors or wedding parties. Disposable 35mm film cameras are available at the Swan Lake Visitors Center (M-F, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Please be reminded that private vehicles are not permitted on grassy areas due to the possibility of damage to sprinkler heads.
May I bring my pets?
For the protection of both wildlife and your pet, animals are strictly prohibited inside the gates. Note: This does not apply to service animals.
Can I go fishing in the gardens?
Fishing is not permitted in any area of the gardens.
Can I bring my boat to the gardens?
No. During the Iris Festival, boat rides are arranged for groups, but aside from small craft that are used by the gardens staff for maintenance purposes, individual boats are never allowed in SwanLake.
What is the Sumter Iris Festival?
The Iris Festival is an annual celebration that takes place on Memorial Day weekend. Arts and crafts, children’s activities, music, food and more provide three days of continuous fun for the entire family! Since 1941, the Iris Festival has been Sumter’s most anticipated yearly event.
Are weddings allowed in the gardens?
Yes, they are! The Swan Lake Gazebo in the Bland Gardens is available by reservation at a nominal cost. Standing-only wedding ceremonies (no chairs or tables, please) may be conducted any place within the gardens, but wedding planners should be reminded that Swan Lake is a public park and the city cannot guarantee privacy or freedom from interruption by visitors or wildlife except in the gazebo area. Wedding receptions are not permitted within the park, but can be held in the Heath Pavilion or Visitors Center Conference Room. Please call (803) 436-2640 for rental information or click here.
Can I host my family reunion at Swan Lake?
Family reunions, church picnics, school trips and any other group looking for a beautiful and educational day-trip destination are welcome at the gardens. The Heath Pavilion, Visitors Center Conference Room and Garden Street Shelter are available by reservation for a nominal cost; the picnic shelters located adjacent to the children’s play area are open at no charge on a first-come first-served basis. For more information on facility rentals, please call (803) 436-2640 or click here.
We look forward to your visit and hope you enjoy your time at the gardens!