McCrory Gardens, located on the campus of South Dakota State University in Brookings, is a stand-out among South Dakota’s premier wedding and event venues. The 70-acre grounds are comprised of 25 acres of formal display and evaluation gardens that merge into 45 acres of South Dakota State Arboretum with its tree and shrub collections,” said Lori Puetz, McCrory Gardens venue sales and services coordinator. 

Image by Chelsea Jean Photography

The Formal Gardens are accentuated by water features, woodsy pathways, plant and tree collections, vine-covered arbors, and an enchanting cottage. 

“They all work together to create a harmonious environment, rich with gorgeous backdrops that are perfect for weddings,” said Puetz.

There are many garden spaces to choose from, including one of the largest, the President’s Garden.

“The textural views of a variety of evergreens, brightly-colored annuals tucked into a shade-drenched flower bed, plummy seed heads of tall grasses, and the drama of the red flower bed–they’re all highlighted in the President’s Garden,” she said.

One of many unique things about McCrory Gardens are the endless views and the ability to host gatherings from large to small in scale and guest count. A more quaint option is the Cottage Garden.

“The Cottage, surrounded by an English-style garden, complete with white-picket fence, makes for another popular, tranquil, and unforgettable setting for a ceremony site,” said Puetz.

The South Dakota State Arboretum is home to a wide variety of zone-friendly trees and shrubs, interspersed with walking trails and large grassy malls. It is open to the public year-round, from dawn to dusk.

“When it comes to wedding creativity, McCrory Gardens provides a wealth of inspiration.” -Lori Puetz

Image by Ivory + Fern


Garden Glow

+ December 4-January 6 (excluding Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, & New Year’s Day).

+ An all-outdoor, holiday light show of more than 200,000 lights of all shapes and sizes on display throughout three acres of the botanical gardens.

Horse-Drawn Trolley Rides

+ December 5 & December 12
Tickets on sale the day of only.

+ Rides running approximately every 15 minutes with capacity for 10-14 riders on each trip, depending on ages and sizes of each group.

+ Ticket prices are $10 per adult (ages 18 and older), $5 per youth (ages 6-17), $5 per SDSU student (with valid ID), free for children ages 5 and younger, and free for current McCrory Gardens members.

“There’s an indescribable feeling you get when you think about Brookings: a certain vibrancy. A special excitement. It’s the kind of pull which draws you in and makes you want to stay.” -Sydney Wood, Visit Brookings

The collection of Maple and of Birch trees are by far the favorites of McCrory staff and photographers alike. 

“In cadence with the seasons, the gardens and arboretum offer ever-changing beauty,” said Puetz. “Spring brings out colors of Tuli Palooza, closely followed by 40,000 annuals flourishing into their fullest summertime glory. The onset of autumn brings rich hues of red, orange, gold and purple through late-season blooming plants and foliage. The landscape eventually quiets to a mantle of sparkly whiteness. Each serves to create the most picturesque scenery for beautiful wedding photography.” 

“It’s always great fun to find out that a proposal of marriage has happened in the gardens, especially during Garden Glow. It’s even more fun when we get in on the planning of the occasion. Couples really go all out to stage the scene.” -Lisa Marotz

Image by Kate Luecke Photography

In 1965, the horticulture research grounds at SDSU were relocated from central campus to an area of Brookings that was once the eastern outskirts of town.

“It’s very important to note that we are South Dakota State University,” said director of McCrory Gardens Lisa Marotz. “The Horticulture Department designed the first two gardens at the site we now know as McCrory Gardens, for display, evaluation and continuation of research. Connecting people and plants through education, research, discovery and enjoyment of the natural and built landscape is our ongoing mission.”


The Hansen Garden was named for renowned horticulturist and pioneer of plant breeding, Dr. Niels Ebbesen Hansen, head of the horticulture department at South Dakota State College in 1895. Hansen, wrote the lyrics to the school song, The Yellow and the Blue.

Image by Coy Photography

The Education and Visitor Center (EVC) is the building located between the formal gardens and the arboretum. The venue was designed with the appreciation of the outdoor views in mind. 

Massive beams and wood ceilings highlight the multi-story, open air spaces. Large windows overlook the patio and terrace gardens, providing a room with a view all year long.

The venue offers the convenience of wedding preparation rooms in the main building as well as in the Straw Bale House, a charming structure just steps to the west of the EVC.

From popping the question and engagement photos, to the bridal shower, the rehearsal dinner, and then ultimately the wedding day, McCrory Gardens can provide couples with the ease of knowing that everything needed is available. This includes access to the exclusive catering service, SDSU Catering. Their team can provide a wide variety of menu options, including bar and beverage service. 

“There’s something about McCrory Gardens that must be experienced to be understood. Walking the gardens, listening to the couple’s story and watching them realize that this is the place they want to be on the day their new life together begins—that’s pure joy for us.”

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