I woke up this morning and thought, “Well, there goes my Indian summer!” Of course it will be back next week, but today’s chilly temps have turned my thoughts to the fact that soon, winter will be here to settle in and stay for a while.
Working at the Swan Lake Visitors Center, the Tourism staff enjoys watching the gardens change from one season to the next. Right now, the bald cypress are shedding their needles and staining the water dark brown, and the ginkgo leaves are such a bright yellow that looking at them is almost like trying to stare into the sun. But it is also time for some of my favorite flowers, the camellias.
Of course, Swan Lake doesn’t have just any old random camellias. The particular species, c. Japonica and c. Sasanqua, are among the most widely known and have showy, rose-like blooms that will last throughout the winter. They can be seen in gardens throughout the community, but Swan Lake’s camellias have a story behind them—as do most things at this wonderful park.
You see, prior to Hurricane Hugo in 1989, I don’t think anyone even realized the camellia garden was there. Camellia bushes grow slowly, and for sixty-odd years, other bushes and trees had been growing over, around and through them until they gradually disappeared from view. But these strong, hardy shrubs (camellias can live more than one hundred years) bided their time and eventually got their day in the sun. After Hugo, the City decided to cut a channel in the south (Heath) gardens to improve water flow. Over near the covered bridge, as the park staff began clearing undergrowth and removing damaged trees, they discovered a wonderful surprise—a healthy, colorful camellia garden. Research uncovered the fact that this was, in fact, a part of the original garden plan developed by Hamilton Bland in the 1940’s. The new channel created an island, which now forms a wonderful spot of color in the midst of the winter landscape. Mostly the c. Sasanqua variety, Camellia Island’s blooms range from white to deep rose, and multiple shades in between. The island is located in the south gardens, beyond the covered bridge near Garden Street.
For more information about the gardens, please call the Swan Lake Visitors Center at (803) 436-2640, toll-free at 1-800-688-4748, or visit us online at www.sumtertourism.com.
If you have a hankering for the sight of fresh flowers in bloom during the cold months ahead, please include Swan Lake in your plans. It’s too late for the irises (they bloom in May) and a couple of weeks too early for the Fantasy of Lights (the lights go on December 1 at 6 p.m.), but why not check out Camellia Island over the coming Thanksgiving weekend?