Swan Lake Iris Gardens
A Floral Wonderland
Welcome to Sumter's Swan Lake Iris Gardens, home to the only public park in the United States to feature all eight swan species and some of the most intensive plantings of Japanese Iris in the United States.
Teeming with life all four seasons of the year, Swan Lake Iris Gardens offers tranquility and enchantment to visitors of all ages. A gift to the Sumter community from the Bland and Heath families, the gardens encompass 150 acres, with more than 120 varieties of iris that explode into a late-spring burst of color. The gardens also feature a rainbow of other seasonal blossoms, including colorful camellias, azaleas, daylilies, and Japanese magnolias. The gardens are a birdwatcher's paradise of swans, Canada geese, matters, wood ducks, muscovies, anhingas, herons, egrets and other wildlife.
A Sensory Trail enables the sight-impaired to enjoy the scents and sensations of the gardens, a talking tree trail shares stories of today and yesterday, and showcasing a Rose Garden, Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden and Chocolate Garden visitors of all ages are sure to find something delightful around every turn.
Swan Lake Iris Gardens is also home to numerous sculptures, including several by famed artists like Zan Lee Wells and Grainger McKoy.
The garden hosts several annual festivals throughout the year, including SC's oldest festival, the Iris Festival, Earth Day Celebration, an Easter Egg Hunt, the Taste of the Gardens, Fantasy of Lights, and more.
Admission to the gardens is free. Photography is allowed (see other garden facts/rules).
The Sumter area Visitor's Center is also located onsite as you enter the main gate. They have additional walking tours, maps, community information and a souvenir shop. For more info, call 803-436-2640.
Level II Arboretum
Swan Lake Iris Gardens houses more than 100 different species of trees and a total of 172 plants. The certification was provided by ArbNet Accreditation Program, the only international program of accreditation that is specific to arboreta. According to ArbNet, there are 2,092 arboreta worldwide in The Morton Register. Of these, only 457 have been accredited globally as arboretums in 35 countries. Of those 457, only 143 are Level II arboretums, including Swan Lake Iris Gardens.
Awarded the 2021 Heritage Tree Award - Annually, the Heritage Tree Award, which is sponsored by Bartlett Tree Experts, identifies, celebrates and recognizes remarkable trees in South Carolina -- check out our video below on the China Fir, which is also part of our Talking Tree Trail.
Swan Lake Iris Gardens began in 1927 as a private fishing retreat for Hamilton Carr Bland, a local businessman. At the same time, he was developing the 30 acres of swamp on what is now the north side of West Liberty Street, he was landscaping the grounds of his home with Japanese iris. They failed miserably, and after consulting expert horticulturists from as far away as New York, he ordered his gardener to dig up the bulbs and dump them at the swamp. The following spring, they burst into bloom. The accidental garden, referred to by Southern Living magazine as a "lovely mistake," has since been developed into one of the finest botanical gardens in the United States.
Following Bland's lead, in 1938 Mr. A.T. Heath, Sr., deeded the additional acreage on the north side of Liberty Street to the city with the stipulation that Mr. Bland also develop this part of the gardens. Today, the Heath Gardens encompasses most of the park's 120 acres. Mr. Bland deeded the Bland Gardens to the city in 1949. The two gardens are joined by the McDuffie Overpass, a gift to the city from the McDuffie family in 1994. The Heath Pavilion opened in 2002 at the rear of the Heath Gardens on property given to the city by the Heath family in 1998.