Currently celebrating its 50th year, 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 parking lot D.
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
Shōmu-en, Japanese Garden
Shōmu-en, the Pine-Mist garden, is a place of quiet and meditation, a refuge from the outside world. The lantern at the gate is a symbol of enlightenment, and the gate always stands open as a sign of welcome. The garden is in four parts. The roji, or crooked path, slows your progress and invites observation. Then you pass another gate into the dark bamboo forest, intended to turn the mind inward. A third gate takes you into a grassy courtyard with gingkos, maples, and a carved basin where water falls from a bamboo pipe into a rock basin. Ascending the wide steps and entering the pavilion, a great body of water, symbolized by raked gravel, comes into view. It contains granite islands and is surrounded by stunted pines seen on a distant shore. A stream comes down the mountainside and graceful maples complete the peaceful scene. Rest here and let your mind travel through this island of tranquility.
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.
Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail
The Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail is a delightful 0.9 mile walk at any time of the year. A unique combination of art and nature, it traverses several habitats. Enjoy a dry limestone based area dominated by eastern red cedar and osage orange to an oak and hickory forest. Along the way you will encounter contemporary sculptures that were designed to be placed in a woodland setting.
Once overwhelmed by the invasive Japanese bush honeysuckle, the area has been reclaimed and replanted with native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Ephemeral wildflowers, such as toothwort, spring beauty, and wild larkspur come up in the spring before the leaves have emerged on the trees. Birds, squirrels and chipmunks are seen as you walk along the shaded path under the shagbark hickory, persimmon, ash, oak and sassafras trees.
Closed until 2020 for renovations.
When did the TRAINS! exhibit open? After almost 4 months of construction the main exhibit was opened in May 2018. TRAINS! was made possible by Jim Crossman in honor of his grandchildren, Claire Ellis, Clayton Ellis, and Cora Crossman.
Who built the TRAINS! exhibit? Applied Imaginations out of Lexington, Kentucky, a company that specializes in garden railway displays across the country.
How long is the track? 800 ft of solid brass track making for one of the largest outdoor displays in the USA.
How many trains? On most days 5 trains run on 5 separate DC powered tracks.
Shadow boxes in tunnel: 3 interactive dioramas. Push the button under each.
Photo opportunity: Near the center of the display is a large train engine called the Photo-Loco where you can get behind it for a unique photo opportunity.
Unusual characters and items: Look for odd things riding the train cars. Challenge the kids to find them.
Waterfalls: Flow during spring and summer (the hidden reservoirs need to be refilled daily).
Dance stage: There’s a round elevated stage at one end of the exhibit for kids to dance and show off their moves.
Train size: TRAINS! are ‘G’ gauge and designed for outdoor operation. They are shutdown during bad weather and when Cheekwood is closed.
– G gauge trains are about 1:32 scale (1 inch of a model train is equal to 32 inches of a real train)
– O gauge trains (think old Lionel 3 rail track) are 1:48 scale
– HO gauge trains (the most popular) are 1:87 scale
Storybook House: Revealed in May 2019 as a permanent extension of the TRAINS! exhibit. Has a train theme with a real slide out the nose of the engine and a dedicated sitting area for telling stories.