Named for the spectacular display of Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel) growing on a dramatic bluff carved by Black Creek in Darlington County, Kalmia Gardens opened to the public in 1935.
At the top of the sixty-foot-high bluff is a one-room-deep farmhouse built by Thomas Hart around 1820. The house overlooks the floodplain of Black Creek and is surrounded by residential-scale gardens including many exotic ornamentals planted by the garden’s founder, May Roper Coker, the wife of David Robert Coker. When the Coker family acquired the land in 1932, “Miss May,” an avid gardener, began transforming what had become a dump site. She planted exotic plants including camellias, wisteria, tea-olives, and azaleas and created trails down the bluff into what was then known as “Laurel Land.” Miss May gave Kalmia Gardens to Coker College in 1965 as a memorial to her late husband, the founder of the Coker Pedigreed Seed Company.
A wooden boardwalk allows visitors to wander down the steep bluff, over Black Creek, and through the cypress swamp. The changes in terrain create varied habitats that support a diversity of plants and animals. The gardens are frequented by students and visitors of all ages who come to study, celebrate, walk, volunteer, and enjoy the great variety of plants and outdoor spaces found in this beautiful garden along the silent and swift-flowing Black Creek.