Blevins Japanese Garden
In celebration of Cheekwood’s 60th anniversary as a public institution, we’re highlighting one of our 12 distinct gardens each month to showcase our wide variety of garden offerings. With 55 acres of rolling hills and 12 intricate, unique gardens, there’s something for everyone to experience and love at Cheekwood.
The Blevins Japanese Garden (Shōmu-en) became a concept for Cheekwood in 1970, when Betty Weesner, a former president of the Ikebana International Chapter 5 (Nashville), pledged a generous gift in support of a Japanese garden at Cheekwood, and the search for a designer began.
Groundbreaking for the Japanese garden occurred on August 14, 1977, in honor of Weesner, followed by a tea ceremony.
Created by David Harris Engel, the garden guides visitors on a meditative journey to an idyllic image of a mountain retreat. Engel named the garden “Shōmu-en,” which translates to “pine-mist forest.” This garden transcends cultures by connecting Eastern garden design with the native Tennessee landscape. The mist in “pine-mist forest” is suggested by the feathered and light-textured flowers of the smoke bush (Cotinus coggyria) that bloom in late summer.
Engel chose the site to lead the viewer to a canyon that opens to a symbolic, grand view of ocean and mountains. From the entrance gate, visitors stroll through the roji, a tea-garden term used to define a transition zone. On this narrow path punctuated with unevenly placed steppingstones, visitors focus on their footing and leave the outside world behind.
The bamboo forest is the final path before one enters the courtyard, where the Viewing Pavilion stands. Looking out from the pavilion, visitors see a highly composed panorama, the meeting of ocean and mountains. The dry body of water is made of raked gravel and large rock formations, implying calm water.
The next significant milestone for the development of the garden was the relationship with James Victor and Patty Blevins, owners of Blevins Popcorn Company. The company led the family to business ventures in Japan, which resulted in a beautiful linking of cultures. In late 1982, while visiting friend and business partner, Toyoji Kato, a foundation was laid to further enhance the garden at Cheekwood with both art and a meaningful legacy.
In 2012, Melba and Bill Blevins honored their family’s vision by generously supporting and commissioning a master plan for the renovation and restoration of the Japanese Garden. Thanks to their support, the planning for long-awaited garden enhancements to address aging horticulture and accessibility for all within the Japanese Garden finally commenced.
Following an additional major gift from the Blevins family to endow the garden, Cheekwood embarked on a renovation with the landscape architect Sadafumi (Sada) Uchiyama, garden curator at the Portland Japanese Garden. Uchiyama was respectful of Engel’s design, planning and executing a more polished enclosure, and updating to be more accessible.
During the collaboration with Uchiyama, Cheekwood was selected by the Japanese government’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MILT) to receive support for the renovation project.
After many years of thoughtful work and planning, the long-awaited renovation project is complete. Originally slated to open at the end of April, the newly restored Blevins Japanese Garden will reopen to the public when Cheekwood opens from its current closure. We look forward to being able to safely welcome you to experience this beautiful garden of peace and tranquility, and we hope to see you soon!
Click here to read about our other distinct gardens.