Friday, June 13, 2014

The South Carolina Botanical Gardens

Forty-five minutes west of Greenville is Clemson, home not only to Clemson University, but also to the South Carolina Botanical Gardens. At just under 300 acres, the Gardens encompass everything from natural landscapes to display gardens, with miles of streams, nature trails and the 70-acre Schoenike Arboretum. Home to over 300 varieties of camellias, the Gardens also have an extensive collection of hollies, hydrangeas, magnolias and native plants. But in order to best enjoy this State treasure, visitors should stop in the Pot Belly Deli for lunch first.

Our sandwiches and wraps were filled to the bursting with toppings and flavor, and the atmosphere was family friendly, especially for a college town. Upon entering you order at the counter and pay at the register before heading to claim a table, where your meal will be brought to you once prepared. The boys polished off a freshly-baked bagel, and the fresh deli fare made it clear that PBD is no chain, but instead a local destination. Vegetarian cuisine is available, along with salads and hot meals. 

Fortified for a day in the gardens we cut across campus and parked in the lot off Pearman Boulevard closest to the Heritage Garden. The first area visitors coming from this entrance will find themselves in is the Cadet Life Garden, which commemorates a special period in Clemson history. Not many people know that Clemson University used to be one of seven military colleges in the country. All the students wore uniforms, attended military classes, practiced military drills, lived in barracks, marched to meals in a common mess hall, and most attended military summer camp at a US Army post - all the while working towards a college degree in their chosen field. Most were commissioned as officers in the US Army Reserve Corps on graduation, and many saw active duty with the military in foreign wars. During those sixty years (until 1956), 12,314 students graduated, nearly 10,000 became Reserve Officers, about 5,600 saw active military service, and 335 died or were missing in action while fighting for their country. (From informational plaques in the Garden).

Following the shaded pergola NE will take you to 1939 Caboose Garden. (Although make sure to stop and relax on one of the swings on your way; tucked into recesses they can be a handy hiding spot from the world, or your two noisy boys.) George Williams, Assistant Vice President and Treasurer of Southern Railway (as well as graduate of class of ’39) donated the caboose which was repainted red, transported to its current spot and furnished with interior finishing and memorabilia.

Meandering through the Heritage Garden, we slowly made our way to the Children’s Garden. With greenhouses, a “Food for Thought” Garden, Peter Rabbit’s Garden and other interesting spaces, the boys found plenty to explore. The food garden provided me with pinterest-style inspiration for our own garden, as well as confirmation that we aren’t the only ones using old pallets as gardening implements. The Peter Rabbit Garden featured a cute little playhouse, and although the greenhouse was near empty, one can imagine that the contents had been recently transplanted outdoors into the gardens.

Adjacent is the butterfly garden, where quite a few butterflies were actually fluttering about, even in the midday heat. I was especially impressed with the pitcher plants, and the boys spotted one or two flowers that we have growing in our garden. There were also many similarities between this garden and the Roper Mountain Science Center butterfly garden that we have just a few minutes from home. 

We circled around Duck Pond on a nice wooded trail that took us around to Camellia Trail. Benches scattered here and there allowed for chances to stop and rest, have a snack and enjoy the view.

We detoured to the Flower Display Garden to see what was blooming, but the boys were more interested in mud puddles and so we soon continued on.

Although there were miles and miles of trails left to explore, we decided to save those for another time. After returning to our car we headed further through Kelly Meadow to the Fran Hanson Discovery Center & Gift Shop. Built in 1998 as "The Wren House," it was the first Southern Living Idea House, designed by architect Keith Summerour and garden designer Ryan Gainey. The cactus gardens between the house and the Campbell Geology Museum are amazing, and provide a stark contrast to the lush, green gardens around the Wren House. We didn’t make it to the art galleries on the second floor that showcase local artists, nor did we venture further to the arboretum just beyond the parking lot; instead, we loaded up and pointed the car back towards home, with one final destination in mind…

No summer road trip is complete without ice cream, and our quest for a cold treat took us back to the Clemson campus. Located in the Hendrix Student Center, the ’55 Exchange is a student run enterprise created in 2005 by the Class of 1955. In addition to ice cream, shakes, smoothies and coffee chillers, one can also buy the famous Clemson blue cheese there – previously mentioned in my post about Stumphouse Tunnel, where the cheese was originally cured.

Truly a State treasure hidden away in a corner of the Upstate, the SC Botanical Gardens are a must-see destination for visitors to the Upstate. No matter the time of year or your interests, I encourage you to go for a hike and discover the Gardens for yourself!


  1. I love a good botanical garden, and this one looks fantastic!

    1. I loved that parts were super-formal, and others wild - it made for exploring and educational opportunities!


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