Brookgreen Gardens

detail of Fighting Stallions by Anna Hyatt Huntington - photo by The Girlfriend
Instead of hitting Topsail Beach again for our early summer vacation trip this year, we opted for coastal South Carolina instead, mostly because The Girlfriend wanted to see Brookgreen Gardens, but there was enough other stuff in the area that I could find plenty to do myself. This is the first of… three maybe?… posts regarding the trip, so I’ll mostly concentrate on the gardens this time.

Brookgreen Gardens is a converted rice plantation – four of them, actually – which is not to say it is a plantation of converted rice, and I don’t even know how you’d convert rice; it’s always seemed pretty intransigent to me. But anyway, this area of former rice fields is now a huge expanse of gardens and lawns, with a small zoo and even a section of river, dedicated mostly to sculpture – some of those from the family of the founders, but plenty of other talented artists are included as well. Personally, I am kinda so-so on sculpture – couldn’t care less about the classical styles or most post-modernism, but there are a few things that I can get into. I greatly prefer realism, and especially expressive natural subjects (funny, that,) but occasionally other things might catch my interest. The gardens themselves are far less of a botanical garden than a huge park, with a lot of really old twisted trees decorated with Spanish moss because, hey, it’s the region and I doubt you could prevent it if you tried.

Spanish moss on trees along walkway, Brookgreen Gardens
One entrance fee will allow visitors access for a week, and it’s not a bad idea at that – one day probably isn’t going to be enough, and I know we walked too much the first day around, so we split it among two, and we didn’t even try any of the tours. ‘Crowded’ is definitely not a word that describes the park, insofar as the sculptures and exhibits are concerned, since things are spread out quite a bit, and while we were there it didn’t describe the number of visitors either, though it was a healthy showing. On our first visit, only minutes inside, we came out into the first big expanse of lawn and walks, and I noticed a bit of discarded plastic or something near the bank of a carefully-manicured pond, before recognizing it. “That’s a gator!” I told The Girlfriend.

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis on bank of pond, Brookgreen Gardens
There’s something special about the subtropical southeast, I have to admit. We’re pretty litigious in this country, and warning signs are rampant, but American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are so prevalent in places that you’re simply expected to know to leave them alone, and so this one was basking unconcernedly in the middle of the gardens. Maybe about a meter-and-a-half in length, this was not an impressive specimen, except for the fact that it was a lizard that was a meter-and-a-half in length. And gnarly – marvelously gnarly. I like gators.

Amercian alligator Alligator mississippiensis in Brookgreen Gardens
We behaved ourselves, and only drew close enough for a couple of shots with longer focal lengths while the gator tried valiantly to ignore our presence, though after a minute it straightened its tail, perhaps to let us know it was aware, but more likely to have a good swing if it needed to whack a nosy tourist, and that was the extent of its movement.

statue and pool in Brookgreen Gardens
The displays within the garden are much less that of a museum, and more how anyone might display statuary on their own property – a single element among the landscaping. There are a couple of areas where the statues get ‘dense,’ but overall, it’s spacious – room for about 1500 picnickers or so at once. Perhaps a few less if you wanted to leave the gators some space…

curious perspective on statue in Brookgreen Gardens
Now, just taking photos of statues is, for the most part, redundant to me – I’d rather do my own fartistic stuff than simply record others. So, where the opportunity arose, I experimented a bit. I’m hoping the one above is at least momentarily confusing, but probably not for very long. A more normal approach is below:

statue reflected in surrounding pool in Brookgreen Gardens
As should be clear now, I simply inverted and cropped the first to change the context. It likely didn’t work, but hey…

the author posing stupidly with Bernard Baruch by Maria J. Kirby-Smith in Brookgreen Gardens, photo by The Girlfriend
We couldn’t resist posing among a couple of the pieces. I’m not sure it’s clear what I was doing here, but if not, there’s no point in belaboring it…

Now, it doesn’t matter where I am, I’m likely to pursue my favorite subject matter every time I get the chance (something that a wedding photographer that I worked with once remarked upon, not positively.) So when the critters were showing themselves, I was taking advantage. The first occurred almost before we were in the park. Driving down the long entranceway, I glanced over and saw a curious squirrel that looked piebald. I wanted to stop and back the car up, but there were other cars behind me, so we continued down to the loop and came back around, finding no sign of the squirrel on our return about two minutes later. I was curious, knowing that I saw something, but tried to put it out of my head. This didn’t last long, as I began seeing more of them, and finally got the chance to start stalking them while on a broad expanse of lawn and trees. A couple provided a fetching pose and that was all the encouragement necessary.

pair of southern fox squirrels Sciurus niger niger interacting on tree in Brookgreen Gardens
southern fox squirrel Sciurus niger niger in black phase in Brookgreen GardensIt turns out that these were actually southern fox squirrels (Sciurus niger niger,) a species that I never knew existed, and there’s a wide variety of coloration, two of which are seen here. They were all over the place in Brookgreen, but I never saw one anywhere else, even in the state park that was adjoining the gardens. I liked their colors, especially the fawn-faced ones, which helped me to overlook that they were squirrels and still, like around here, a bit of a pain. In and of themselves, they don’t bother me, but they tend to overpopulate an area and do too much damage to, for instance, the eaves of the house and any mantis egg cases I’m patiently waiting to see hatch. We got our photos of them, for novelty’s sake, but will probably reclassify them mentally as ‘just another squirrel’ soon enough.

blue dasher dragonfly Pachydiplax longipennis on reed in Brookgreen Gardens
Sure, there’s a statue nearby, but look! It’s a dragonfly!

small frog in pond in front of statue, Brookgreen Gardens
I had actually been photographing this statue of a guy with his junk out, wrestling an alligator, because some subjects manage to draw my interest (the alligator,) when I spotted the little frog just hanging out in this ideal pond, and the real, uncultured me kicked in. Actually, I’d been hoping for some natural subject in the foreground, preferably on the pads or weeds in the middle of the pond, so into the breech leapt I. And of course, the distracting statue had to be excised for other frames.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea in pond near statue, Brookgreen Gardens
Hey, we have several resident green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) on our own property, so there was no need to get another, but that didn’t stop me. And since one of these days, I’m going to do a post specific to this, I asked The Girlfriend to get a shot of me getting this shot.

the author in Brookgreen Gardens ignoring statues for a frog, photo by The Girlfriend
Yes, my arm, and a portion of my shirt sleeve, got plenty wet and a little muddy doing this, but that’s part of the allure. If you’re not at least a little grubby, you’re not a true nature photographer, just a poseur. You know, one of the Great Washed.

tree and Spanish moss emeulating rays, Brookgreen Gardens
Still playing fartsy. Shot at 10mm, the wide angle made the moss spread like sunrays, and of course you can’t beat those limbs. Seriously – they’ll chuck you out of the park if you try.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis immediately after displaying dewlap
On both days, we spotted Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis,) and I couldn’t ignore either. This one was displaying its pink dewlap (like the guy with the alligator) in the hopes of attracting a mate, though the only sharp image I got of his twitchy scaled behind was this one – but it’s sharp. You gotta love those scales. If I ever do any kind of mosaic tiles, it’ll be just like this.

carolina anole Anolis carolinensis perched on treeThe other played hide-and-seek with me around a tree branch on two occasions spaced a few minutes apart, but this is the frame that won out over all the others. To the left is the entire frame, but below is a detail crop. Virtually all of the time, they appear matte and unreflective, yet the right sun angle will produce a hint of iridescence from the scales. That head is slightly smaller around than my little finger, just so you know.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis in detail
Okay, I hear you – we’ll get back to the real art now. Sheesh. Philistines.

Flying Brown Pelicans by Grainger McKoy
As I said, I prefer realism and natural subjects, and this one made me stop and marvel. Called Flying Brown Pelicans by Grainger McKoy, I want you to pause and look closely for a bit. Especially at the shadows.

Here’s another perspective:

Flying Brown Pelicans by Grainger McKoy
Notice anything odd yet?

Let’s go to the placard.

placard for Flying Brown Pelicans by Grainger McKoy
The entire sculpture is suspended from the wall by those four little wingtip feathers at top, and the two pelicans are joined by the same – there are no other posts, wires, or magnetic fields at work. I should tell you, too, that the entire thing is well over two meters in length, much larger than life size. And it’s a great rendition of pelicans all by itself. There’s not too much artwork that evokes awe in me, but this guy can do it. I would probably never be able to afford any piece of his, and wouldn’t know where to put it if I did, but damn, do I want to. There were several of his works in the gardens, including this next one.

Wood Duck Pair by Grainger McKoy
Now, I’ve seen too few painters that could bring out the colors this realistically, and he does it as a part of his sculpture. And, like the pelicans, it’s all cleverly mounted and balanced – the entire sculpture is supported by the sapling rising behind the ducks. Check out his website – I insist – to see these in much better conditions and detail. Note the ones, too, that show the birds against their own ‘reflections’ in the water. Fantastic.

That’s going to do it for now – this took long enough by itself. More will be coming along shortly.

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