The most common dogwood in our Tennessee woodlands is the native Cornus florida. A small, understory tree, it produces a profusion of open-faced, white flowers in the spring. Its leaves tinge burgundy against the surrounding hills in fall. In the winter months, before the foliage completely emerges, the flowering dogwood’s horizontal branching patterns can be fully appreciated, adorned with the small meringue-shaped buds that await spring’s season to bloom.
The native Tennessee dogwood is beloved for its elegant, understated beauty, but also for its punctuality. They are one of the earliest flowering trees to greet the spring after a long winter, a true harbinger of the season. To walk among the allèe of dogwoods of white and shades of pink in full bloom at Cheekwood is a sought-after experience.
The Carell Dogwood Garden at Cheekwood is the centerpiece of our Nationally Certified Cornus Collection. In 2012, the collection became the very first of its kind to be recognized by the Plant Collections Network, a collaborative effort between the American Public Gardens Association and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service. What began as just under 200 specimens donated to Cheekwood in 1982 by the Carell family has expanded into an acclaimed assortment of one of the most beloved trees in our region.
Plant collections relate to a garden’s mission. Cheekwood aims to be a primary source for horticultural display, education, research, conservation, and enjoyment. Dogwoods are well suited for Cheekwood with their undeniable beauty, endemic to Tennessee. The estate currently displays just over 300 individuals and 14 different species of dogwood, including 23 varieties of Cornus florida. These 23 varieties of Flowering Dogwood have been selected to represent breeding achievements for superior blooms, foliage, growth habit, vigor, hardiness, as well as disease and insect resistance. Cheekwood has a well-developed Plant Collections Policy and enhancing and expanding the Cornus Collection remains the institution’s primary collecting mission. Other than the picturesque flowering dogwood, Cheekwood is also the proud home of several Cornus officinalis (Japanese Cornel Dogwood), which blooms in February, and the evergreen Chinese dogwood (C. angustata), which blooms in early June.
The Carell Dogwood Garden is a magnificent component of Cheekwood’s 12 distinct gardens and is beautiful throughout the seasons. Be sure to pick up a Gardeners’ Top Picks for a look at what’s in bloom during your next visit to Cheekwood.
Click here to read about our other distinct gardens.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.Between the Herb Study Garden and the Burr Terrace Garden, the Carell Dogwood Garden encompasses a wide swath along the eastern property line where a flourishing understory of dogwood are intertwined with an array of hydrangea cultivars. Christmas fern which remains evergreen in Nashville’s mild climate adds texture with its long-indented fronds. Lenten roses carpet the garden floor throughout the year with persisting leathery foliage, and native trilliums arise in early spring to bloom quickly and go dormant again.
Cheekwood has been cultivating various Cornus species since 1982, when Mr. Monroe Carell Jr. and his wife Mrs. Ann Scott Monroe graciously donated their personal collection of dogwood trees. Mrs. Carell was a key member of the Horticultural Society of Middle Tennessee, even serving as president at one time. Mr. Carell served on Cheekwood’s Board of Trustees for many years, chairing a Future of Cheekwood campaign. This collaboration led to Cheekwood’s inheritance, an assemblage of a treasured native tree species that soon transformed into a lovely woodland garden.
The installation beneath stately Shumard and Chinquapin oaks has matured over the past several decades to become a picturesque understory of dappled light. This is the perfect environment for perennial companion plantings of hosta, astilbe, and the ephemeral bleeding hearts. Where there was once an empty plot of land between two prominent gardens is now an attractive promenade rich in species diversity, a proper woodland garden.
It is not always the case that a botanical garden’s plant collection, especially trees, are seen growing in one location. However, the way in which these quintessential spring-flowering trees are staged along a slightly curving path is breathtaking. Visitors are naturally encouraged to slow their pace and admire the many wonderful attributes of the dogwoods at every bend. The very presence of the collection is a unique habitat, a room of protection, not only fitting for shade-loving plants, but a refuge for birds and squirrels.