Sumter Iris Festival Celebrating 74 Years

Put on your dancing shoes, bring your appetite and prepare to experience one of the most exciting Sumter Iris Festivals held to date!  The festival, held every Memorial Day weekend and now in its 74th year of celebration, will highlight new talents, activities, music, crafters, artists, classic cars and more over the weekend of May 23-25, 2014.

The 2014 festival, sponsored by Continental, Duke Energy Progress, First Citizens2014-Sponsors Bank, SAFE Federal Credit Union, Walmart, the City of Sumter and Sumter County, is South Carolina’s oldest continuous festival and was named by the Southeastern Tourism Society as one of the Top 20 Festivals in the Southeast last year.

The three-day festival includes concerts, an arts and crafts show, fine arts, plants for sale (including our famous Japanese irises), a flower show, two car shows, and a number of contests and free children’s activities.

The fun begins the Thursday evening before the festival, with the annual crowning of the King and Queen, followed by the Taste at the Gardens.  The Taste features great music and food from some of the area’s leading restaurants, caterers and talented cooks.  Look for some delightful changes to the Taste—the committee is in the planning stages now, but word is that some special cuisine will be served in honor of the festival’s special guests this year.  4-Way Stop will be the entertainment at 4-Way-Stopthe May 22nd event.  They are a four-piece local band from Sumter, playing oldies from the late 60’s and early 70’s along with other “good time” music.

One of two headlining special guests for the 2014 festival is renowned topiarist Pearl Fryar, an award-winning, self-taught artist who has, since 1980, turned his Bishopville, SC home into a nationally recognized topiary garden.  Fryar believes that gardening and love should go hand in hand and that a garden should be pleasing to the eye, as well as touch the soul and spread the message of love and peace.  His 400 topiary and metal sculptures have been featured in numerous national gardening magazines, television news programs across the country, and even a documentary.  A Man Called Pearl chronicles his journey and has been shown on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN channel.

Fryar will be sculpting shrubs on May 24th on the Bland Garden side of Swan Lake Iris Gardens in the Gateway to Gardening area of the festival, next to the gazebo, throughout the day.  His creations will be auctioned off to bidders on Sunday, May 25th, to help raise money for future festival activities.

Festival newcomers East Coast Scooters will host a golf cart contest at the 2014 festival, on the lawn between the Swan Lake Visitors Center and the Iris Market.  This contest is open to anyone with a custom designed or special interest golf cart and prizes will be given out to those with the most unique, best of show and people’s choice.  Pre-registration is required in order to participate.

Iris-Festival-2014-02Also new this year is The Art of Welding from Central Carolina Technical College.  Metal art sculptures, made by area students, will be on display and over the weekend will go up for auction during the festival.  Sculptures available will range from a life-size alligator, heron, and catfish, to various smaller pieces.  Auction proceeds will go to the CCTC Scholarship Fund, specifically for welding students.  The sculptures and auction will be located directly in front of the Swan Lake Visitors Center during the festival.

A last-minute addition in 2013, Iris Festival Education Day will return in 2014 with a bigger and better program.  This is a special day set aside for area schools to visit and participate in activities during the festival, and is set for Friday, May 23rd from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The theme for Education Day this year is “Wild About Education.”  Activities include a wild animal presentation, scavenger hunt, arts & crafts, boat rides, animal safety and more.  Schools are required to pre-register.  Teachers and /or chaperones need to make all arrangements with the Swan Lake Visitors Center at (803) 436-2640 prior to May 9th if you plan to participate.

Stay tuned for our article in the next issue of Sumter Living magazine, in which we discuss the exciting live appearance by Troy Landry from the Swamp People”® television series at 2014’s 74th annual Sumter Iris Festival.

A printable event brochure is available online here.  You can also keep up with plans as they develop at the Iris Festival Facebook page.  For more information, visit or call (803) 436-2640.

by Shelley Kile

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