Cheekwood's Display Collection
Published: May 13, 2021
This week is Go Public Gardens Days, an initiative by the American Public Gardens Association, presented by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Services, representing over 600 public gardens across America, including Cheekwood. This initiative aims to drive the public to visit, value, and volunteer at public gardens in their area and when they travel.
As a botanical garden, Cheekwood collects and preserves plants, both native and from afar, that fit within the parameters of Tennessee’s climate and soil conditions. The display collections serve an integral role at Cheekwood. Ornamentally robust with heirloom as well as contemporary cultivars and hybrids, each plant within the various collections has proven to perform well in the region. The collections also provide an educational component by representing taxonomic groups, and in many cases, explaining the uses of plants by indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as those of European colonists. Interpretational signage has been assigned to explain distinct collections throughout the grounds. Cheekwood strives to grow and maintain an impressive number of specimens, therefore demonstrating a wide range of forms, varieties, and cultivars that a taxon has to offer.
The Display Collection represents a wide range of plant forms, including bulbs, rhizomes, ferns, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and trees. It is divided into eight subcategories. Though often found concentrated in certain areas on the grounds, the display collections grow throughout the various gardens at Cheekwood, except for the Rose Collection and the Virginia Peck Daylilies. These two groups have special, designated locations.
The Daffodil Collection
Cheekwood has enjoyed a close relationship with the Middle Tennessee Daffodil Society for several decades and has served as a venue for meetings and annual shows, as well as the American Daffodil Society National Convention and Show in 2018. At one time organized in an encyclopedic fashion, the collection has in recent years been displayed in large swaths, namely in the Basham Daffodil Field. Upcoming plans for this collection include fine tuning the large assortment into historic, classic, and modern, in addition to showcasing Wister and Pannil winners.
Virginia Pek Daylily Collection
Not only was she prolific in the world of daylily breeding, Dr. Virginia Peck was also well known as a scholar and professor of Anglo-Saxon literature and modern poetry, teaching at Middle Tennessee State University from 1949-1977. In a plant laboratory based at her home, she crossed and developed her Hemerocallis varieties, inspired by Arthurian literature to give names such as ‘Round Table’, Maid of Astolat’, and ‘Elfin Knight’ to her creations. Peck is also the hybridizer of the first known ruffled tetraploid, ‘Dance Ballerina Dance’ (1976). The daylily collection can be found to the right of the stairs leading from the Frist Learning Center to Cheekwood’s Museum of Art.
Ferns can be found around every garden corner at Cheekwood. Widely known to be shade tolerant groundcovers, a few varieties, such as Cyrtomium falcatum (Japanese Holly Fern), are evergreen during the rather mild Tennessee winter. Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) unfurls around Cheekwood’s ponds and streams beginning in March, its fertile fronds decorated with golden brown fruit dots. Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn fern) another evergreen species, brightens darker sections of the property with its corals and chartreuse tones. Cheekwood’s fern collection is represented with thirty-eight different species and over four thousand individuals.
Neatly organized and displayed within the rustic, stone raised beds of the Herb Study Garden, plants known for a multitude of uses are showcased. A historical context is offered in two parallel beds; one grouping features species utilized by the indigenous people of North America, such as Aralia spinosa and goldenseal while another focuses on plants that the Europeans brought with them to the new land. Other sections are dedicated to culinary herbs, texture, fragrance, and herbs of the Mediterranean. The herb collection is cared for by the Nashville chapter of the Herb Society of America.
This classic among shrubs (and there is even a climber – Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris!), Hydrangea is grown and beloved throughout the world. Currently, Cheekwood boasts seven species, calculating to a grand total of five hundred and seventy-two individuals. The core of the hydrangea collection can be appreciated in the Carell Dogwood Garden as companions to the multitude of Cornus species and in the Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden, where they surround a circular labyrinth. Prolific bloomers growing in part to full shade, these plants offer perfect sublayer structure in garden design. Lacecaps, oakleafs, big leaf, and smooth hydrangeas all offer stellar attributes such as flower longevity and fall color. Newer hybrids such as the Endless Summer series offer re-blooming effects.
With eleven species and a number of crosses, Cheekwood is home to just under two hundred magnolias. The much adored and quintessential southern flower (Magnolia grandiflora) grows within both the historic core of the landscape and the most modern additions, as well as everywhere in between. In spring, the star and saucer magnolias light up the estate, on par with the forsythia and daffodils. Rare species –M. pyramidata and M. tripetala– live in the Howe Garden, at the edge of the pond near the endangered Torreya taxifolia, adding to the Jurassic flair.
Cheekwood’s redbud collection is mostly comprised of the native Cercis canadensis and its cultivars, with the exception of two species, Cercis chinensis (Chinese redbud) and Cercis reniformis (Oklahoma redbud). A member of the legume family, redbud flowers are pea-like, maturing to bean-pod fruits that often persist throughout the winter months. Cheekwood’s redbuds can be found in many of the estate’s gardens, namely the Carell Dogwood Garden, Carell Trail, and surrounding the Frist Learning Center. The flashy pink blooms of the tree open as the tulips pop each year, intensifying the mood of each anticipated spring.
Cheekwood’s newest display collection is a favorite among guests. With over 60 rose shrubs- including hybrid teas, grandifloras, miniatures, climbers, Old Garden roses, and Earth Kind- each variety has been assigned a label with the scientific name, rose type, and the American Rose Society’s official rating. The collection, which can be seen blooming from April until October, is consolidated in the Rose Study Garden, which opened to the public in 2016. The Rose Study Garden is a maintained by the Nashville Rose Society who use the garden as a classroom for its members and the general public, teaching the many virtues of the rose and how best to care for its many variations here in Middle Tennessee.