Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cypress Gardens, Moncks Corner, SC

Bateau. Cypress Gardens, SC
14 February [19]35      
Villa Margherita, Charleston, S. C.

Dearest Papa Woojums,

It is a lovely Charleston but very lonesome, all your friends have been so sweet to us considering that they almost feel we didn't bring you, they don't see that we are the ones who suffer the most. Miss [Josephine] Pinckney was charming and intriguing and a little mysterious, the Dubose Heywards even more charming, so little mysterious that one felt that one had known them always and so loved them at once, and the unknown Mr. Ben Kittredge Jr. sat next [to] me at lunch at Oxford in '25 or '26 and he has a beautiful car but a marvellous garden, the famous cypress garden and we rode on boats on the swamp for hours this afternoon. This I tell you so that you may know what you are missing.
--Gertrude Stein, The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, 1913-1946

The "marvellous garden, the famous cypress garden" of Mr. Ben Kittredge, Jr., was actually owned by his parents - Benjamin R. Kittredge of New York and Elizabeth Maynard Marshall of Charleston, S.C. - when Stein visited. Cypress Gardens was created by the elder Kittredge after he purchased Dean Hall Plantation in 1909.

Dean Hall Plantation was established in the 1720s by Alexander Nesbitt of Dean, Scotland. It passed through the hands of several owners before Kittredge obtained it.The plantation had fallen into disuse. The reservoir which once held fresh water for the rice fields had become a swamp. Kittredge aimed to turn it into a duck hunting preserve. Trails were constructed around the swamp and the landscape was planted with ornamentals. He opened Cypress Gardens to the public in 1932.

Benjamin Rufus Kittredge, Jr. was the author of an unremarkable novel, Crowded Solitude, which he published in 1930. Perhaps his book, the fact that he was already known to Stein, and the famous garden included him in her itinerary.

Benjamin Junior sold the 162-acre Cypress Gardens to the City of Charleston in 1963 for $1.00. The city turned it over to Berkeley County about 30 years later.

Cypress Gardens was heavily damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, but a recent visitor would hardly know it. Time, hard work and money have healed much.

Just as Gertrude Stein, we visited Cypress Gardens in winter. Admittedly, it is not the time one would usually make a garden visit, even in the Lowcountry. Indeed, there were few other visitors, but the solitude enhanced the pleasure.

Indoor exhibits are nestled near the Visitor Center. Among the Cypress Garden attractions are the Butterfly House, Heritage Museum, Swamparium and Nature Center. A live bird exhibit, alligator display, children's and heirloom gardens are also nearby.

The Butterfly House exhibits a good number of plant species that feed butterflies or their larvae, but the Butterfly House was not alive with butterflies when we visited, at least in their winged form. We spotted one monarch and a caterpillar, but there were many chrysalides in protective boxes. The Butterfly House is also home to koi and a few birds such as the Diamond Dove, native to Australia, and the Wood Duck, native to the swamp just outside the door.

The Heritage Museum tells the fascinating story of Dean Hall Plantation. Many of the artifacts were unearthed thanks to DuPont™ , which bought part of Dean Hall for its Kevlar® fibers plant. Though it's easy to mourn the loss of the historic site, most of what we know of it would be mouldering still in the cold, cold ground if not for "progress".

Upon entering the Swamparium, one is greeted by the big, toothy grin of one of the largest alligators you've ever seen. Don't worry. It's stuffed. But it and the bronze image of a large alligator snapping turtle on the wall give some of idea of the dangers inherent in a southern swamp. For more creepiness, other live reptiles, fish and amphibians are also on display in the darkened rooms.

More of nature is on display in the Nature Center. A stuffed Red Fox and Bobcat stalk upon a shelf, and hands-on exhibits provide tactile learning for everyone.

There are about 3.7 miles of walking trails and paths at Cypress Gardens. The paths are less developed. If you wish to explore as Stein did, boats are available for guided and self-guided tours.

Cypress Gardens Walking Trail
With a map of Cypress Gardens in hand, we set out. Swamps seem more dismal on cold, cloudy days. Buzzards spied upon us from ahigh. Cypress Gardens, however, was brightened by seasonable camellias and unseasonable azaleas, and scented with fragrant tea olive. The patterns and colors of crapemyrtle trunks and cypress knees looked more vibrant under the gray sky. We took our time, otherwise we would have overlooked the beauty of camellia-strewn trails, aquatics in black swamp water and the silhouettes of dried flowers against duckweed.

Cypress Gardens evokes nostalgia with its seemly structures: the wedding gazebo and Memory Garden gazebos, romantic pergola, stone span, a wooden Chippendale-esque bridge for sighs.

The garden is furnished to encourage wildlife. The bat hotel and Wood Duck nesting boxes are examples. I kept an eye out for fauna, especially Wood Ducks. If not sighting some, I kept my ears open for their distinctive calls.

I neither heard nor saw any.

Perhaps you are wondering, "What about the water-skiers and picturesque belles I've seen in postcards?" They were at another Cypress Gardens, now aka Legoland Florida Resort. This Cypress Gardens is at 3030 Cypress Gardens Rd., Moncks Corner, SC 29461.

In the words of Gertrude Stein, "This I tell you so that you may know what you are missing."  Visit sometime soon.

If you've enjoyed the images in links above, follow now to view more from Cypress Gardens.

Golden Shrimp Plant (Pachstachys lutea)

Flaming Glory Bower (Clerodendrum speciosissimum)
Camellia japonica
Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'
Camellia japonica
Joggling board
Indica azalea
Indica azalea hybrid
Indica azalea hybrid
King's Mantle (Thunbergia erecta)
Heritage Garden

Have you visited Cypress Gardens? Let us know about your experience.

Return to


Scheherazade said...

I'm curious. Were the golden shrimp plant and the flaming glory bower in a protected shelter? Very interesting blog. Enjoyed it very much.

GoGardenNow said...

Thanks for your comments. The shrimp plant and glory bower are in the Butterfly House.