Turner Seasons Garden
In celebration of Cheekwood’s 60th anniversary as a public institution, we’re highlighting one of our 12 distinct gardens each month to showcase our wide variety of garden offerings. With 55 acres of rolling hills and 12 intricate, unique gardens, there’s something for everyone to experience and love at Cheekwood.
Designed by internationally renowned landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, the Turner Seasons Garden formally opened on June 6, 1999. It is named after Laura Katherine Turner, the wife of CEO Cal Turner Sr., who along with his father founded Dollar General Stores.
The Turner Seasons Garden cascades down the hill and is divided into four garden “rooms”, making a wonderful use of a steep slope. It is separated into four terraces, each highlighting the four different seasons. The seasons are expressed in several ways: through the plants, the art of the mosaic rain basins, and in poetry displayed on the basins and garden plaques. Each of the four garden sections contains a rain basin depicting the season and length of day at that time of year.
The basins were made by the Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts artist, Jenifer Strachan. They address the phenomena of seasonality in response to the rotation of the earth on its axis and the resulting variations of darkness and light, as well as changes in precipitation. The basins are cast from stone and display an abstract diagram of the cardinal points as they occur on the site and relate to the sun’s rays. Around the rim of each basin, poetic lines by writer and stonemason, John Maloney, also of Martha’s Vineyard, are engraved.
In the spring of 1998, in order to incorporate more poetry in the garden, Mr. Turner sponsored a local poetry competition for students of Metro Davidson County Schools. A winner was chosen for each of the four gardens. and the winning poems were engraved on four-inch-thick plaques.
A walkway near the top passes under four rose arbors displaying old fashioned roses, one of Laura’s favorite plants. The layout of the garden responds to the dynamic nature of seasonality. Because seasons are the result of constant change in the biological world, the four garden areas were formed in interlocking triangles. The garden at the highest elevation is the spring garden, followed by winter, then fall, and finally summer.
The garden sections move back and forth along the hillside, organically positioned along the path. The garden room corresponding to the current season is awakened with botanical interest. In spring, guests encounter a blanket of daffodils growing beneath spring blooming magnolias, redbuds and fragrant viburnums. Summer brings vibrant color with the help of herbaceous perennials such fragrant, silver lavender, hybrid bi-tone peony, purple groundcover verbena and tangerine geum, ornamenting the TRAINS! display that is popular with children and families. Autumn is highlighted with the ambers, golds, and reds of Japanese maple and oakleaf hydrangea. In the winter months, visitors can appreciate the bare bones of the Turner Seasons Garden, sitting upon an evergreen carpet of Lenten rose, blooming ivories and pinks, and bright red possumhaw berries providing food for the abundant wildlife passing through.
On September 17, 2019, in partnership with the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, Cheekwood launched a Storybook Trail, depicting the classic children’s story, The Little Engine that Could. Installed along the pathway leading to Cheekwood’s popular TRAINS! display, this permanent exhibit combines exercise and learning into a fun family activity.