May Featured Plants
Spring has officially sprung in Nashville, and we can’t think of a better time to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather and sunny days that have finally arrived. May is also a beautiful month in the gardens, with blooming dogwoods, fragrant honeysuckle and lush greenery.
As you enjoy the best of the late spring weather at Cheekwood, keep an eye out for our garden team’s top picks for plants to see in the gardens this month. You can find these with the plant indicator labels throughout the grounds.
False Indigo| Baptisia Decadence® ‘Dutch Chocolate’ (pictured, right)
A native to the Eastern United States, Baptisia was once used for dying fibers by early American settlers, hence the common name “False Indigo”. Now, it is highly valued for its lupine-like blooms, which come in a wide variety of colors, and ease of growing, low maintenance, and its resistance to deer. ‘Dutch Chocolate’ is an exceptional and unique selection with its richly colored purple-brown flowers. To watch false indigo’s stems emerge (they look like asparagus!) from the ground in early spring brings a source of intense delight to the gardeners of Cheekwood. Visitors can find this cultivar along the new Weaver Walk near the Robinson Family Water Garden. False indigo is most effective when planting in a naturalized setting in groupings or as a specimen plant. Give it plenty of full sun and well drained soil to root in, stand back, and admire.
Cinnamon Fern | Osmunda cinnamomea (pictured, right)
This native bronzed woodland fern is both reliable and easy to grow. At Cheekwood, we love how it perfectly illustrates our eastern woodlands, spicing up the Howe garden. Though cinnamon fern is heat tolerant, for the very best results, grow in shade with plenty of moisture. The brown, stiff fronds are spore bearing and initially appear in early spring before quickly turning color. The wiry root mass makes an incredibly dense fiber used as a substrate for propagating and growing orchids.
Martin Boxwood Gardens
Solomon’s Seal | Polygonatun odoratum ‘Variegatum’ (pictured, right)
The graceful arching maroon stems of Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ present showy and fresh light green leaves edged in white. The ornamental foliage paired with the pendant-like tubular white flowers drooping from the leaf axils, make this plant one of the most sophisticated of perennials. Solomon’s Seal is the ideal addition to a woodland scene or for a more formal setting, like our Martin Boxwood Gardens.
Herb Study Garden
Coral Honeysuckle or Trumpet Honeysuckle | Lonicera sempervirens (pictured, right)
One of Tennessee’s most colorful native vines, coral honeysuckle typically reaches 10-15′ in height. Clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers emerge from new bluish green, disc-shaped leaves (imagine tiny lily pads) in late spring. Bloom color ranges from brilliant shades of reds to yellows which are extremely attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Ornamental red berries beloved by a variety of birds, form in late summer to early fall. L. sempervirens is great for softening up a wall (when supported by a trellis) or fence. Aphids can be a potential pest but are easily controlled. Perhaps one of the best attributes of coral honeysuckle? It’s resistance to our resident deer.
Bradford Robertson Color Garden
Chinese Fringe Tree | Chionanthus retusus
Not to be confused with C. virginicus, our native Fringe tree, C. retusus is native to Eastern Asia. Naturally a shrub, Chinese fringe tree, can be trained to grow as a small tree. The leaves are a leathery texture, smaller than those of our native. A profusion of snow white, fragrant tassels is occurring now at Cheekwood’s Color Garden and will persist for a few more weeks. Being tolerant of air pollution with a rounded form and ultimate height of 10-20’, Chinese fringe tree makes a great street or parking lot tree. In addition, with its highly ornamental value (fruits, flowers, foliage, and exfoliating gray bark), it also looks outstanding when planted in mass or as a single specimen. Chinese fringe tree will even perform well near ponds and lower elevations where moisture levels are higher. Leaves are frost resistant, so gardeners need not to worry about a late frost with this one. In fall, if fertile, female specimens will produce small dark blue fruits that attract birds and other wildlife.
Carrell Dogwood Garden
Flowering Dogwood | Cornus florida (pictured, right)
Of Cheekwood’s prominent Dogwood Collection, 23 cultivated varieties of C. florida have been selected to represent an emphasis on superior blooms, foliage, growth habit, vigor, and hardiness, as well as disease and insect resistance. Buds are uniquely shaped, like little turbans, persisting from late winter to early spring. Most are blooming now and will last until the second part of May. It’s the white bracts of the inflorescence and not the actual flower that we are so drawn to. The flower structures are held inside the showy, white modified leaves and are unassuming. The low-branched tree habit with its attractive, horizontally arranged branches, creates a beautiful layering affect, and when in bloom, the landscape looks delicately speckled with flowers. Dogwood has excellent fall color of red and purple, adding depth to our Tennessee hills in late October. Bright red berries in winter provide food for the resident wildlife. Group plantings in part shade for the most impactful display.
Burr Terrace Garden (North Raised Armillary Bed)
Iris pallida ‘Variegata’ | Variegated Sweet Iris (pictured, right)
Native to Northern Italy, this sweet iris can be found in the northern raised armillary bed of the Burr Garden. (Fun Fact: The Burr Garden is reminiscent of the oldest living botanical garden in the world, Orto Botanico di Padova, in Padua, Italy). “Iris”, the Greek word for Rainbow Goddess, aptly names this plant genus which comes in a myriad of hues. Iris pallida has lavender blooms detailed with yellow beards. Gray-green strap leaves are outlined in creamy yellow stripes. Sweet iris is not fond of wet feet like other irises. Plant in well-drained soils in full sun to part shade for best performance.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Bruckse Photography.