When Henry David Thoreau wrote, “…if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a dismal swamp, I should certainly decide for the swamp,” we can only imagine that he’d been accustomed primarily to the murky swamps of the American Northeast. Had he traveled south, he might have realized that it’s possible for the most beautiful garden and swamp to be one and the same.
Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, South Carolina hosts a swamp where cypress and tupelo trees rise from glassy black water, branches are festooned in spanish moss, and fragrant white water lilies look like so many pearls bobbing in the still water. Okay, yes, there’s also the occasional alligator. But if you ask us, the element of danger is half the fun of a swampy adventure.
Over the weekend, we sent Charleston, South Carolina photographer Melissa Toms to nearby Cypress Gardens. Melissa shares her photos below, and her advice: Arrive early in the morning, hop in a rowboat, and stay for a minimum of three hours.
Above: Bald cypress and tupelo trees rise from the black swamp water.
Above: Fragrant water lilies (Nymphaea odorata).
Above: Rowboats are free to take for a tool through the swamp.
Above: If you’re afraid of alligators, consider calming your nerves and opt for a $5 guided tour.
Above: If you do go it alone, painted white arrows direct boaters on a path through the swamp.
Above: Bring along a friend to lighten your paddling load.
Above: Spanish moss drip from the towering cypress trees.
Above: In the fall, the deciduous needles of the bald cypress turn a rich rust-brown before falling off the trees.
Above: In addition to the swamp, the gardens offer 3.5 miles of nature trails. Melissa recommends a visit to the garden’s Butterfly House, where butterflies fly freely.
Above: This time of year bright red spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) steal the show among the garden’s flowers. For a complete list of the flowers currently in bloom, see the garden’s What’s Blooming? list.
Above: A butterfly flies among branches of Lobelia puberula “Downy.” Correction: The butterfly is enjoying Blue Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis)!
Above: The gardens are open seven days a week from 9 am to 5 pm, year-round. The last admission is at 4 pm–which Melissa explains is a good thing. She suggests setting aside plenty of time for a visit: “Once you get there, you don’t want to leave.”
For more information about admission and tickets, see Cypress Gardens.
Need directions? Here’s a map:
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