Geniese and Tom Gilman got married in 1978 and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Since then, they have raised their nine children here and visited Cheekwood numerous times along the way. Tom is a history teacher, and Geniese is a nanny, mother, and grandmother, who often meet each other for picnic lunches when they have time throughout their days. They were introduced to Cheekwood by a photographer in July of 1985 and since then Cheekwood has been the backdrop to countless photos including an anniversary portrait, one of their daughter’s wedding portraits, one of their nephew’s proposals, birth announcements, Christmas cards, and innumerable photos of their nine grandchildren. When Geniese searched, “Cheekwood” in her phone’s photo album she got a result of 1,500, and that does not even begin to cover the older photos that are not on her phone.
Geniese (blue sunhat) and Tom (blue baseball hat) with their nine grandchildren in the Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden
What have you enjoyed the most about your Member experience?
The memories I have created at Cheekwood with family and friends over the years have been delightful. I have even made friends with some staff members, too, like Shannon Pruitt. Shannon is now a Horticulturist at Cheekwood, but we first met in the gardens on March 30, 2017. I was at Cheekwood alone with my sketchbook reminiscing about a loved one who had passed away the year before. Shannon noticed that I was crying, and she came over to ask me if I was okay. From that day I have come to know
Shannon as one of the most tender and kind souls, and I enjoy seeing her working in the gardens on my visits.
What is your favorite garden, area, or plant at Cheekwood and why?
I love the Tulips – I went to see them at least eight times earlier this year in 2022. I love to take pictures of everything, but especially the Tulips. My Dad was a Naval photographer during World War II and later had a dark room in our house while she was growing up. He gifted me my first camera with a flash bulb before my field trip to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Knowing that my first photograph I ever took was of flowers makes me want to continue doing that even more. One of my favorite Cheekwood in Bloom years was when there were different variations of pink tulips planted beside the creek flowing down from the Historic Mansion & Museum.
Other favorite areas of mine are the TRAINS! exhibit, I love them almost as much as my grandchildren do. My older grandchildren enjoy reading The Little Engine that Could on the Storybook Trail to my younger grandchildren. I enjoy early morning strolls through the Blevin’s Japanese Garden and the Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail where I sing and hum to myself when no one else is around. Cheekwood is my favorite place to take my grandchildren and take pictures of them and the flowers.
Shannon Pruitt working in the Bradford Robertson Color Garden
Do you have a favorite art piece at Cheekwood, or, if not, a favorite exhibition that Cheekwood has hosted? Is there a reason you like it?
My family loved Sean Kenney’s Nature POP! Made with LEGO Bricks exhibit in 2021 and the Storybook Houses! in 2019. A family favorite house of ours was the Hill Top Garden, inspired by Beatrix Potter and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. There were so many interactive ways to explore the house and from the bunnies on the fence posts to the window flower baskets the artistic details were wonderful. The accessibility of these exhibits to Members and guests of all ages enhance the enjoyment for children and make the adults feel like they’re kids again, too.
Three of the older grandchildren near the TRAINS! exhibit
Family portrait taken in 1985 on their first visit to Cheekwood. Taken by Orman and Orman.
Join Cheekwood today and experience the unparalleled beauty of Nashville’s landmark country estate.
As a member, you have complimentary access to inspiring art and garden exhibits, programs, festivals,
and events throughout every season.