The Howe Garden is one of the most beloved gardens at Cheekwood, rich in historical significance. With long-time support from The Garden Club of Nashville, the garden is a living tribute to Mrs. Cora Howe, showcasing her love of wildflowers and garden visitors.
After the passing of Mrs. Howe, her heirs donated the garden in its entirety to Cheekwood, establishing it as the first donated garden installation on the property. During December of 1968, plants, dirt, rock, and the thatched-roof toolhouse were all moved from East Nashville, where Cora’s “Wildlings” was considered one of the first public gardens in the area, having over 1,000 visitors a day in the spring. On April 27, 1969, The Howe Garden was officially dedicated to Cheekwood.
Cheekwood guests can experience many of the same native species Cora so loved, including azaleas, trilliums, trout-lilies, Virginia bluebells, a variety of ferns, and a small colony of paw-paw trees. The endangered stinking cedar (Torreya taxifoia) also grows here and has been part of an assisted migration effort since 1985. Visitors can also learn about our state-of-the-art rain garden which was a key element of the 2012 renovation.
The Howe Garden is located on the East side of Cheekwood, between the Burr Garden and the Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden.
Sigourney Cheek Literary Garden
Cheekwood’s literary garden was created to pay tribute to the late Sigourney Cheek and to serve as a place to seek solace and to inspire literacy by promoting reading, writing, and reflective thought. The opening celebration for the Sigourney Cheek Literary Garden occurred on May 17, 2012.
Sigourney loved Nashville deeply and supported many local not-for-profit institutions, including Cheekwood. She was a life-long learner, a community leader, inspirational spirit and avid gardener whose home garden (Fairborne) is listed as “an Important American Garden” at the Smithsonian Institute. She was cofounder of Nashville’s Antiques and Garden show which began in 1989 and the author of two books.
The use of iconic antique imagery to aesthetically enrich the space held significant meaning for Sigourney Cheek. These unique objects include a French tub dating back to the 15th century, which features an antique beer tap from the 19th century and two planters from the capital columns of an old courthouse in Mississippi.
The garden can accommodate intimate groups of up to 40 people in an amphitheater setting for literary events, such as poetry and book readings, with a contiguous space for social gatherings. From this space, visitors of the garden experience a gorgeous view of the Tennessee hills.
The Sigourney Cheek Literary Garden sets above the Wills Perennial Garden.
Martin Boxwood Gardens
The Cheek home and its gardens were designed by Bryant Fleming in the late 1920’s. The elegant Georgian-style mansion is surrounded by lawns and terraced gardens with extensive plantings of boxwood. From Ford Wisteria Arbor, overlook the formal plantings and a reflecting pool with statues of Thalia and Urania. There are broad views of the nearby hills, spectacular in the fall. Visitors to these gardens find themselves transported to another time and place. These original Cheek gardens include a wooded stream, pools, fountains, and a stone grotto. The water features were important to the design and harmony of the setting.
Bradford Robertson Color Garden
An allée of crape myrtles leads into this garden where sweeping curves of colorful flowers border a sloping lawn and give a view of the distant hills. The beds are planted in annuals, perennials, and tropical plants. The color comes from both the profusion of flowers and from colorful foliage. Follow the path to eight curved arches covered with flowering vines. At the end of the walkway, there is a giant urn planted in the same dramatic style. This garden reflects the universal love of color as a design element.
Carell Dogwood Garden
Dedicated in 1982, this garden displays many selections of Cornus species planted under oaks and pines, and is the centerpiece of our Nationally Certified Collection® of Cornus. The garden displays many variations in branching patterns, bark, leaf, berry and the showy bracts characteristic of dogwoods. In the fall, burgundy foliage colors the garden in addition to our Tennessee hills. Hostas, astilbes, native ginger, daffodil, ferns, hydrangeas, and hellebores are planted at ground level.
To learn more about our Nationally Accredited Collection® of Cornus, visit the American Public Gardens Association website here.
Herb Study Garden
Installed in 1983, the Herb Study Garden is devoted to the study and evaluation of herbal plants to determine those that can be successfully grown year-round in Middle Tennessee. This garden is a project of the Herb Society of Nashville, Unit of the Herb Society of America. The society is devoted to promoting the knowledge, use, and delight of herbs through educational programs, research and sharing the experience of its members with the community.
The Herb Study Garden provides an important connection to the Herb Society of Nashville and its very active volunteer contingent.
There are 7 themed sections within the Herb study Garden.
1. Culinary Herbs
2. Blue Flowered Herbs with Gray & Silver Foliage
3. Annual Display Bed, rotating seasonally
4. Texture and Fragrance
5. Herbs used by Native Americans of Middle Tennessee
6. Herbs Used by Early Colonists of Tennessee.
7. Mediterranean herbs
Blevins Japanese Garden (Shōmu-en)
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, 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. The black pines are pruned to appear windswept, with their needles contrasting beautifully with the softness of the Cotinus.
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.
A thoroughfare of packed yellow-groove Phyllostachys presents a second path of transition. 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, founded in 1945 and the first to sell popcorn in movie theaters. The company eventually 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. During the Blevins’ stay in Japan, Patty, along with the expertise of Kato’s son, Yakato, was able to secure four stone artifacts, which were placed according to David Engel’s specifications.
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.
Wills Perennial Garden
Below the formal gardens of the mansion, overlooking the mustard meadow and the ponds of the Robinson Family Water Garden is the Wills Perennial Garden. It is dedicated to iris breeder and author, Jesse Wills and displays both new and traditional perennials and many bearded iris. A steep limestone wall provides both habitat and background for this colorful, full-sun garden. The Wills Perennial Garden reaches its peak in the summer when the succession of color culminates with asters, salvias, perennial sunflowers, rudbeckias, and ornamental grasses.
Turner Seasons Garden
The Turner Seasons Garden focuses on the seasonal aspect of gardens in Tennessee. It features a series of garden rooms, each with a decorative rain basin and plant collections of special interest. The rain basins, enhanced with poetry relating to the season, remind us the gardens are both art and science. A decorative arbor, covered with old fashioned roses and bordered by the Hardison Daffodil Collection in spring, is found at the top of the garden. The seasonal rooms cascade down the hill finishing with the summer garden which contains the Peck Daylily Collection. Visitors walk among flowering trees and shrubs and may study and compare favorite groups of plants. Plants providing fall color, winter berries, and bark patterns will be found in the garden for all seasons.
Burr Terrace Garden
Installed in 1972, this garden is reminiscent of a garden in Padua, Italy, dating back to 1542, considered to be the oldest surviving botanical garden in the world. The Burr Garden is an enclosed garden on three levels with colorful annual plantings, an armillary bed, and a fountain. The flowering season begins in early spring with blooming bulbs and contrasting violas. Summer presents a sea of color with summer phlox, purple coneflower, and vibrant summer annuals.
Rose Study Garden
One of the newest gardens at Cheekwood, the Rose Study Garden was opened in 2016 and is dedicated exclusively to America’s official flower – the rose. Built and maintained by the Nashville Rose Society, the Rose Study Garden contains over 70 roses of all types and colors, including Earth Kind (no spray) roses, hybrid teas, grandifloras, miniatures, climbers, shrubs and Old Garden roses. Its spectacular blooms can be seen from April all the way through October. With Education being one of Cheekwood’s Core Values, the Rose Study Garden is used primarily as a teaching tool, in which the Nashville Rose Society helps Cheekwood’s members, new members of the Rose Society, as well as the general public learn how to grow beautiful roses in Middle Tennessee.
Robinson Family Water Garden
The original design of the Cheek gardens included three large ponds that served as reservoirs for the many water features as well as the water supply for the house. The ponds are planted with shade loving perennials along the banks, along with seasonal annual color. The sound of cascading water is heard as you walk along a rocky stream examining the fern collection, hellebores, hostas and heucheras.
Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail
The Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail was established in 1999 through the generosity of Ann and Monroe Carell Jr., and features ten works on a 1.5-mile woodland path, a setting not commonly found at museums or sculpture parks in the United States. Though modelled after venues for outdoor sculpture in England like the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, from the very beginning the intention was to exhibit artwork that responded to Cheekwood’s distinctive natural setting. The sculptures along The Carell Trail each examine the relationship between art and nature in their own distinct way, creating beautiful, thoughtful dialogues with the surrounding landscape.
In 2019, The Ann & Monroe Carell Foundation (Kathryn and David Brown, Edie and David Johnson, Julie Carell Stadler), honored the legacy of their parents by supporting a major improvement project as well as establishing an endowment to ensure the lasting preservation and enjoyment of The Carell Trail at Cheekwood. New features include an upgraded entrance, updated wayfinding and signage, and enhanced horticulture. Lighting has been added to the Hickory Loop, which is now fully paved, making this portion of The Carell Trail accessible for all, even after dusk. All existing sculptures were restored, and visitors can now more easily access the James Turrell Skyspace by way of the new Susan & Luke Simons Blue Pesher Promenade.
Sophie Ryder (British, b. 1963). Crawling Lady Hare, 1997. Galvanized wire on steel armature. Museum purchase through funds provided by Ann & Monroe Carell, Jr.
Bracken Foundation Children's Garden
The Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden occupies a dynamic two-acre space on the eastern side of the property and bridges the botanical garden progression with the historic core. Situated between the Howe Garden and the Frist Learning Center, Cheekwood’s youngest garden is intended to be evocative of the historic estate. The Children’s Garden is beautiful and horticulturally diverse, featuring numerous interactive features that are engaging for all audiences. A serpentine walkway serves as the thoroughfare within the garden, leading visitors to experience each area of this special family destination. Designed by Tres Fromme in collaboration with the local landscape architecture firm HDLA, this space is truly a celebration of Cheekwood’s year-round beauty.
Cheekwood’s Riverview Gardens and Art Installation at Riverfront Park
Since 2015, Cheekwood has been partnering with the Metropolitan Government to present a garden and art installation at Riverfront Park. Cheekwood contributes to the overall care and oversight of the garden, maintaining the perennial plants and regularly installing annual plants that mirror the coinciding displays at Cheekwood. For example, in spring, Riverview Gardens features thousands of tulips reflecting the 150,000 blooming bulbs at Cheekwood.
Emerald Ash Borer Response Program
In 2018, Cheekwood established the Emerald Ash Borer Response Program. The vision for this program is to make Cheekwood a preserve for native ash trees and a community leader in response to the emerald ash borer epidemic. The program’s main objectives are to:
- Manage and protect a large population of native ash trees on the Cheekwood property for future generations to observe, study, and enjoy;
- Celebrate the species as an important American hardwood worthy of preservation; and
- Educate the community about the species and proper management in response to the emerald ash borer (EAB) epidemic.