Any time of year is a great time to visit Brookgreen Gardens, but that's especially true during the Christmas holiday season. That's when the botanical sculpture garden lights up the night with its annual “Night of a Thousand Candles” holiday display.
The 9,000-acre sculpture garden, the oldest and largest on the East Coast, goes all out for Christmas time by decorating the already beautiful park. The existing merger of art and nature gets an even prettier makeover for the holidays as thousands of visitors flock to the gardens to get a major dose of the Christmas spirit.
Located on a former rice and indigo plantation in Murrells Inlet, about 20 miles south of downtown Myrtle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens is a year-round attraction featuring more than 1,400 sculptures and statues, colorful plants and flowers and ancient live oak trees that pre-date the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
For one fortnight every December, Brookgreen Gardens stays open late and illuminates the property with more than 5,000 hand-lit candles, along with other lights glistening in the water fountains, hanging from the Spanish moss in the live oak trees, and dangling from the works of some of America's best-known sculptors.
This National Historic Landmark is magically transformed into a winter wonderland, perfect for families and couples looking to escape the commercialism of Christmas. Visitors can stroll through the gardens, listen to live music, watch plays and other performances, enjoy a hot cup of apple cider and feast on a Lowcountry holiday meal.
Crowd favorites include the Diana Pool, highlighted by a statue of the Roman goddess and illuminated by a pool of floating candles, and the Time and the Fates of Man, Pegasus, the Alligator Bender and the Fountain of Muses exhibits. The Children’s Garden includes a mix of sculptures and decorations that make it a favorite for all ages.
Brookgreen Gardens' “Nights of a Thousand Candles” will be held December 4-6, 11-13, and 18-20, or every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night through Dec. 20. The gates open at 3 p.m. to give guests a chance to explore the gardens by day, but the lights come on when the sun goes down as the park stays open late till 10 p.m.
But it doesn’t have to be Christmas time to have a great time at Brookgreen, which welcomes visitors year-round and offers a wide range of activities. Among the most popular are the boat tours, which give guests a scenic cruise through the tidal creeks and rivers aboard a 48-foot pontoon boat. See the old rice fields amid the marshes and swamps, huge alligators sunning on tiny islands, and fishing boats sailing through the tributaries waters of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The Lowcountry Zoo is another unique experience, offering up-close encounters with some of the native wildlife. An enclosed aviary features some of the most common coastal birds of prey, a large collection of alligators hang out by the swamplands, and playful otters swim about and put on a show for bystanders. There’s even a small farm for domestic critters, such as goats and miniature horses. Guests are permitted to feed and pet the animals during designated tours.
The Oaks Plantation History and Nature Trail gives visitors a glimpse into Lowcountry life in the plantation era, including a scenic stroll through the maritime forests that surround the old homestead. The Gullah Cultural Center also gives guests insight into African-Americans’ influence on South Carolina’s island culture. The Butterfly House displays rare and colorful species of butterflies from around the world.
All this and more await you behind the gates of Brookgreen Gardens.