Gardens FAQ

Is there a Map of the Gardens?
Yes! Click here to download the latest brochure, with a self-guided map.

Where is Swan Lake Iris Gardens located?
The gardens are located at 822 West Liberty Street (US 763) in Sumter, South Carolina, 29150.

What is the mailing address for Swan Lake Iris Gardens?
P.O. Box 1449, Sumter, South Carolina, 29151

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 and during the annual Iris Festival held annually on Memorial Day Weekend. There is no charge for admission.

What are the Visitors Center hours?
The Visitors Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5pm. However, Park Patrol Officers are available throughout the gardens after hours and on weekends. 

Do I need to make reservations for my group to tour the gardens?
If you are interested in exploring the gardens on your own, no reservations are necessary; however, as a courtesy, we ask that you call the Visitors Center ahead of time to make sure we have plenty of parking during special events. For a docent-guided group tour, please call the Visitors Center at (803) 436-2640.  Please give two weeks' notice for all guided tours.  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 1920s 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?
Based on the brochure and map distribution as well as a traffic counter, we see annual visits that repeatedly exceed 600,000 per year.  Swan Lake Iris Gardens is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state, with visitors from across the United States, Canada, South America, and numerous Asian and European countries, and has been featured in Southern Living and Better Homes & Gardens, TripAdvisor, among others. 

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 are wheelchair accessible. However, many of the paths can become soft in seasonal weather. The City is unable to offer wheelchair rentals.

Can I rent a golf cart to tour the gardens?
Hamilton Bland envisioned the gardens as a leisurely walking tour, and visitors are encouraged to experience nature at close hand.  Golf carts are not available for individuals and cannot be rented, nor should personal carts be brought into the gardens.

Is there someplace to eat at the gardens?
The Iris Market Cafe is currently closed. You will find some snack machines near the restrooms by the Visitors Center and additional drinks and snacks may be available inside the Visitors Center.

When do the Japanese iris bloom?
The 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 descendants of the birds that were first brought to the gardens in the 1930s.  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 or other wildlife at Swan Lake?
Among other bird species, Swan Lake Iris Gardens is a natural area and part of a great watershed. There are many species that come and go in the gardens annually. Although the City makes every effort to keep Swan Lake free of predators, being a natural area 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.

Am I allowed to feed the birds or other wildlife?
We are sorry, but feeding 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 effect on their overall health and well-being.  We appreciate your cooperation by not feeding the wildlife.

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.

Can I drive into the lake area or to the pavilions?
Please be reminded that private vehicles, including cars, trucks, golf carts, bicycles, skateboards, scooters, ATV/OHVs, etc., are not permitted on the trails or inside any grassy areas. 

May I bring my pets?
For the protection of both wildlife and your pet, all 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 Swan Lake.

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 1940, the Iris Festival has been Sumter’s most anticipated yearly event.

Are weddings allowed in the gardens?
Yes, they are! All events must be prearranged with the Visitors Center, call (803) 436-2640. Standing-only ceremonies (no chairs, tables or other structures are allowed) may be conducted any place within the gardens. 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. The Swan Lake Gazebo in the Bland Gardens is available by reservation at a nominal cost. Wedding receptions are not permitted within the park but can be held in the Heath Pavilion, but you must pre-apply at our Visitors Center to reserve your date. Please visit our Facility Rentals page or call (803) 436-2640 for rental information.

Can I host my family reunion or other events at Swan Lake?
Yes, but all events planned at Swan Lake must be prearranged with the Visitors Center, call (803) 436-2640. 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 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. Please visit our Facility Rentals page or call (803) 436-2640 for rental information.

Can I rent the Children's Playground area?
The picnic shelters located adjacent to the children’s play area are open at no charge on a first-come-first-served basis. Groups are encouraged to share picnic shelters with other visitors as much as possible, and cannot block anyone from the playground equipment and surrounding green space.

Can we play music at the gardens?
Loud noise and/or music is not permitted within Swan Lake Iris Gardens.

Can I drop my children off at the Gardens?
Children under 16 are not permitted without a parent and/or guardian.

Other items prohibited at Swan Lake:

  • Flower Picking

  • Charcoal Grills

  • Inflatables (bound houses, balloons, etc.)

  • Litter

  • Poles or staked signs and/or equipment of any kind

  • Profanity

  • Soliciting of any kind

  • Weapons of any kind
  • Smoking

  • Alcoholic Beverages