A lovely mistake

Sumterís Swan Lake-Iris Garden in the US, which came about by sheer chance, is one of its kind, reports Peeyush Agnihotri after a visit

Sumter city, situated on the US state highway 378 in South Carolina and better known for Shaw Air Force base, also has a softer side to it. The city that lies barely 40 miles away from the state capital Columbia is as well a rare amalgamation of colourful petals and vibrant feathers. Lesser known to many is that Sumterís Swan Lake-Iris Garden is the only public park in the United States with all eight known species of swans and nearly 250 varieties of Japanese Iris.

The Black Australian swans were the first ones to be imported to the Sumterís Swan Lake.

The Black Australian swans were the first ones to be imported to the Sumterís Swan Lake. These swans are the most social of the eight varieties. ó Photos by the writer

The park is a riot of colours in summers from May to July and during the Christmas season is the venue for the much-publicised Fantasy of Lights event. The Iris Festival, held every May on the lake garden, is South Carolinaís oldest continuing festival and has won "Top 20 events in Southeast US" award innumerable times.

Sometimes the best things in life happen accidentally and this lake garden is no exception. The very Ďby chanceí birth of this botanist-zoologist delight makes an interesting story. Nearly 80 years ago in 1927, Hamilton Carr Bland, a local businessman, tried to landscape his home in Sumter with Japanese Iris, a waterside plant from Asia known for its colourful flowers. Not knowing that the plantís natural habitat was swamp and marsh, he tried utmost to rear them on his residential lawns.

The plant didnít grow despite hectic consultations with top horticulturists of those times. After all his concerted efforts failed, he dug up all the plant root bulbs and threw them in his private fishing retreat, which was nearly 30 acres of swamp then.

All was forgotten till the next spring when the dumped flower plants blossomed. The sight was breathtaking and then the area, which is West Liberty Street now, was developed into a garden.

The businessman then imported Black Australian swans and the area became the talk of the town. Inspired, another prominent citizen of the area donated a part of his land, which lay on the opposite side of the street, with a recondition that Mr Bland develop that into a park too.

This day, both gardens lying on the opposite sides of the street, are joined by an overhead wooden bridge. With the efforts of a few corporate houses, more swan breeds were brought in and Swan Lake now boasts of all eight swan varieties ó Royal White Mute, Black Necked, Coscoroba, Whooper, Trumpeter, Black Australian, Whistler and the Bewick.

What started as a "lovely mistake" (that is what one of the local magazines once called this garden) today attracts visitors from all over the world. Besides swans, other aquatic birds like ducks, geese and mallards, too, have made the lake their abode. Similarly, other floral beauties now vie for attention along side Japanese Iris. Visitors in this public park are allowed to feed the birds with breadcrumbs and biscuits. A Braille Trail on the premises enables the visually-impaired to enjoy the scents on this floral wonderland.