Clemson University Feature Stories

A rendering shows what the Longleaf Pine Flatwoods portion of the Natural Heritage Garden will look like when complete.

Take a walk through South Carolina without ever leaving Clemson

The Natural Heritage Garden will cover about 65 acres when complete and will stretch from the Hunt Cabin to the Fran Hanson Discovery Center (Visitor's Center), connecting the two ends of the South Carolina Botanical Garden. By Crystal Boyles
Creative Services

Two years ago, Patrick McMillan looked out his office window overlooking the South Carolina Botanical Garden, mulling over words expressed to him in Charleston — “The garden isn’t representative of South Carolina.”

If the garden isn’t representative of South Carolina, how could that be changed?

From that moment, a seed of an idea has bloomed into a full plan and now a reality — a garden that mirrors the plants of the state. Walk the trail, and you’ll notice the newly installed walking path, several new gardens and, in these beautiful spring days, leaves and flowers bursting out at every step.

While incorporating some areas of the garden already heavily used, the Natural Heritage Garden is really an addition and a use of previously underutilized space within the garden. The new set of gardens will uniquely represent the ecological aspects and heritage of each part of South Carolina.

“It’s not a little garden — you’re surrounded from sightline to sightline with what it would be like if you were actually standing in that area of the state,” said McMillan, who took over as the Botanical Garden director two years ago.

In short, the garden is building three distinct ecosystems — the plants, ecological processes and connections with mankind — to represent the state’s mountain, piedmont and coastal plain areas.

To re-create the nutrient-poor/rich soil conditions of the different plant communities, the landscape is undergoing a subterranean transformation. Layers of topsoil are being removed to make room for new, habitat-specific soil blends created exclusively for this garden and mixed at the Botanical Garden. Most of this work will take place in late summer.

“What we’re doing is entirely revolutionary in the course of horticulture. We are uniquely able to do this because we don’t have space limitations or commitments to use areas a specific way,” McMillan said. “We are free to do something really extraordinary.”

The climate in the Clemson area is just warm enough to allow plants like Palmetto to grow and just cool enough to grow mountain species like Oconee Bells, he said.

The 60-plus acres used for the garden will also more distinctly connect the furthest parts of the 295-acre garden and the welcome center, said Darlene Evans, the Botanical Garden special events and communications director.

More importantly, it will connect visitors to South Carolina’s vast flora and its importance to our way of life.

McMillan talks passionately and limitlessly about South Carolina’s heritage, tying each piece closely into that area’s hydrology and then back into the garden’s plans.

For example, the Heritage Garden’s entrance — which hasn’t been built yet — will begin where the history of modern South Carolina begins, beneath Palmettos and large, tranquil Live Oaks. McMillan talks actively about how Live Oaks were used to build Old Ironsides and how Palmetto trees were used at Fort Moultrie to absorb the force of the cannonballs.

“Our natural heritage is hugely connected to history and to our survival as a nation,” McMillian said.

Like the state it’s designed after, the garden is, and will be, ever changing.

So if you want to take a trip through South Carolina without ever leaving Clemson, the South Carolina Botanical Garden will be the place to do it in the coming years.

To become a Friend of the Garden or to make a donation to the Natural Heritage Garden, visit

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