An Arboretum of the Highest Status
The historic Cheekwood Estate and Gardens is comprised of 55 acres. The woodlands surrounding the estate comprise 15 of these acres where mature oaks, cedars, ash, and hickories have grown for hundreds of years and created a lush canopy of signature Tennessee forest. Similar species are represented throughout the main campus, as well, along with understory companions like redbud, dogwood, stewartia, and paw paw. Since its inception as a public botanical garden in 1960, Cheekwood has strived to collect and showcase tree varieties bred for improved performance, new flower colors, and stronger environmental tolerances. The result of collecting with these botanical qualities in mind, along with horticultural donations given over the years (i.e. Carell Dogwood Collection), is a rich and diversified arboretum providing a space for guests and students to explore, enjoy, and learn.
An arboretum is a living collection of trees and shrubs cultivated and labeled for scientific and educational purposes. An arboretum functions to demonstrate a tree’s performance under cultivated conditions, educate and provide a resource for the community, and to conserve trees like the Torreya taxifolia (Stinking cedar) whose natural habitat is threatened.
The arboretum program in our state was initiated by the Tennessee Division of Forestry in 2000 and the process was a simple one. To apply for arboretum status, a site only needed to be one of public access with at least 30 tree species identified and labeled. The Tennessee Urban Forestry Council (TUFC) took over the program in 2007 and the rules for becoming a legitimate arboretum have expanded. At the time of this writing, over 90 sites across the state are certified arboretums. They include school campuses, cemeteries, parks, museums and, like Cheekwood, public estates.
In 2001, the Tennessee Division of Forestry deemed Cheekwood an arboretum with a level 1 status. This helped establish a foundation for a more structured collections management policy and thoughtful interpretation for our tree collection. The new arboretum status was also the impetus for an Arboretum Maintenance Plan. This plan covers guidelines related to inspection, mulching, planting, staking, pruning, and watering.
Cheekwood qualified for level 4 Arboretum status with the TUFC in 2010. With 12 distinct gardens, a new children’s garden and renovated sculpture trail on the way, as well as our Nationally Accredited Cornus (Dogwood) Collection™, we offer more than 120 labeled and identified trees on site, representing the best trees to grow in Middle Tennessee.
Maintaining a level 4 arboretum status is relevant to upholding our organization’s core value system:
– Preservation of our landscape, structures, art and botanical collections.
– Education and the institution’s ability to serve as a resource for the entire community.
– Beauty and the recognition that individuals define and appreciate beauty in their own ways and for their own purposes.
– Creativity, discovery and exploration of the world around us.
– The sense of place that is Cheekwood and the memorable experiences it creates.
– Honesty, integrity and respect for all.
In 2016, Cheekwood was designated a Center of Excellence by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. The Center of Excellence program serves as a form of outreach and enhances urban forestry at regional sites throughout the state of Tennessee.
To meet the requirements necessary for a Center of Excellence designation, a site must meet the following criteria:
– Hold a qualified Level 4 arboretum status
– Have a certified arborist on staff or on retainer as a member of a designated “tree team,” comprised of at least four volunteers including a Master Gardener or Master Urban Forester
– Serve as a community resource for tree information and education including at least four education programs each year on arboriculture or urban forestry
Cheekwood strives toward excellence in all we do, and our team works diligently to maintain this integrity through various initiatives, including arboretum tours, special garden days and tree celebrations. Follow along with us on our website, blog and social media platforms as we continue to grow and expand, always keeping our core values in mind to best serve our community. Our arboretum map can be found on our website here or you can pick one up at Visitor’s Services for a self-guided tour.