Picnics are a popular pastime of the summer. In downtown Aiken lies Hopeland Gardens, one of South Carolina's most tranquil and beautiful public parks, perfect for a picnic.
The 14-acre park was given to the city by the Oliver C. Iselin family in 1970. Mrs. Iselin wanted others to enjoy Hopeland, the family estate, for years to come. The gardens offer a peaceful setting surrounded by history.
Camellias are sprinkled throughout the gardens. Impatiens and ivy surround trees such as the Eastern red cedar, sweetgum and loblolly pine that were planted by the Iselins.
Fountains and goldfish pools now mark where the Iselin house stood. The residence was torn down because it was too costly to maintain and repair. The Doll House, built by the Iselins for their daughter Hope, and stables are two original structures that remain.
The estate was transformed into a public park by Robert E. Marvin, a landscape architect. He was retained by the city in the 1970s to develop a master development plan and continues to work on the gardens.
"In his design of the gardens, (Mr.) Marvin blended the existing gardens with remains that were once part of the Iselin estate,"said Tom Rapp, horticulturist for the city.
The plan continues to be implemented as city and private money becomes available, said Beth Newburn, immediate past president of the Friends of Hopeland Support Group.
The Doll House is home to the Aiken Garden Club Council. It has a historic camellia garden composed of various types of camellias that have originated in the Aiken area and is registered with the American Camellia Society. The stables are now the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.
Hopeland also has a touch-and-scent trail for the visually impaired, complete with bronze plaques that detail the flowers, plants and shrubs of the gardens.
The gardens has a series of ponds stocked with water lilies, American lotus, bulrush and other vegetation that was constructed to retain water runoff from surrounding roads, Mr. Rapp said.
The Roland H. Windham performing arts stage is the site for a concert series Monday evenings May through August. The stage, which is in the middle of two small ponds, is bordered by weeping willows. Japanese iris are planted along the banks. Ducks waddle near the pond, to complete a picturesque setting.
Hopeland Gardens, located on Dupree Place off of Whiskey Road, is open daily from 10 a.m. to sunset. Admission is free.
Ashlee Griggs covers gardening. She can be reached at (706) 823-3351.