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Mindfulness Walks in the Garden

Inspired by Strolls for Well-Being from Bloedel Reserve
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Mindfulness Walks in the Garden at Cheekwood is part of the Wellness 360 programming. Fifty-five acres of thirteen diverse gardens, a one and one half-mile woodland sculpture trail, and historic estate with expansive vistas preserved by the surrounding Warner Parks invites you to step away from electronic distractions, busy traffic patterns, and situational urgency and step into a posture of presence, openness, curiosity, and acceptance as you walk along the winding paths.

This program is based on an ever-growing body of research that demonstrates the positive impact of nature on mental health, physical health, social health, and overall well-being. It is not to replace the guidance of medical practitioners but is available as a tool for those who wish to take personal steps toward renewing the mind, body, and spirit.

Cheekwood itself is a tool for those who seek time and space to reflect on senses, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are often pushed to the side day-by-day. As you interweave the prompts of this guide with your experience at Cheekwood, we hope that you are re-assured by the consistency and persistence of the natural world around you.

The following pages provide prompts, space for notetaking, suggested paths and pause points for thought. The exact sensations and situations that will be addressed depend on you and where you want these walks to take you. With practice, these thought processes can happen in a matter of minutes, so do not feel held to a certain time frame, long or short.

The sense of physical freedom in the garden is accompanied by an inner sense of freedom in which the possibility of a different way of life can be glimpsed.” —Sue Stuart Smith, The Well-Gardened Mind


Walk One: Presence

The first phase of Mindfulness Walks focuses on becoming physically present. It begins in the Herb Study Garden, continues through the Carell Dogwood Garden, loops through the Burr Terrace Garden, and settles in the Howe Garden. These gardens, located on the east side of Cheekwood, will offer you the opportunity to get acquainted with the grounds and move your mind from the abstract to the tangible world around you via sight, sound, texture, and scent.

About the Gardens

Herb Study Garden

Herb Study Garden

The Herb Study Garden, installed in 1983, 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.

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Carrell Dogwood Garden

Carell Dogwood Garden

The Carell Dogwood Garden, dedicated in 1982, displays many selections of Cornus species planted under oaks and pines and is the centerpiece of Cheekwood’s 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 the Tennessee hills. Hostas, astilbes, native ginger, daffodil, ferns, hydrangeas, and hellebores are planted at ground level.

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Burr Terrace Garden

Burr Terrace Garden

The Burr Terrace Garden, installed in 1972, 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 enclosed 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.

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Howe Garden

Howe Garden

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, Howe Garden is a living tribute to Mrs. Cora Howe, showcasing her love of wildflowers and garden visitors. During December of 1968, plants, dirt, rock, and the thatched-roof tool house 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. The Howe Garden was officially dedicated at Cheekwood on April 27, 1969, making it the first addition to the original Cheek plantings.

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About Walk One

Walk One is the foundation for practicing mindful presence. Just like any other skill, presence is important to develop and grow through repetition.

Allow yourself at least 10 minutes before each walk to put these mindful steps into action. The steps are explored in these first four gardens of Walk One, and may seem specific to them; however, they can be crafted to each journey at Cheekwood.

To reach the Herb Study Garden continue down the path after checking in at the ticketing office. The entrance to the Herb Study Garden is to the right of the road, across from Botanic Hall.

Each stop on Walk One is marked by a green circle.

Before you begin:

Stand still and take a deep breath.

In and out.

Take note of how your body is feeling.

As you walk:

Bring attention to the movements and sensations in your body. Notice how your hips and shoulders move, your steps firm on the ground, how your chest rises and falls


Each stop on Walk One is marked by a green circle on the path.

Stop One: SIGHTS

Once you come to the first stop in the Herb Study Garden, open up your attention to the sights around you. What do you see? What movements catch your eye? The water bubbling from the fountain? The variation of color side-by-side, people passing, animals in the garden beds? Take a moment to look around you and note the interactions you see. This garden has an annual display bed which rotates seasonally, you may notice something new every time you visit. Allow yourself to think about these things. When you’re ready, begin walking towards the next stop on our journey.

Stop Two can be found along the Carell Dogwood Trail. From the first stop in the Herb Garden, make your way back to the main path and turn right.

Stop Two: SOUNDS

As you reach the Carell Dogwood Garden, shift your awareness to the sounds around you. What do you hear? Conversations, wind blowing, children playing, birds singing? Notice the things that are louder than the others. Now the quietest. Do the Lenten roses covering the ground between the trees muffle the sound of falling seeds? Take note and allow yourself to think on these things. When you’re ready, begin walking and continue your journey.

Stop Three can be found at the entrance to the Burr Terrace Garden. From the Carell Dogwood Garden, continue left down the path. The Burr Terrace Garden will be on your right, surrounded by stone walls.

Stop Three: TEXTURES

In the Burr Terrace Garden, where you will find stop three, start to notice the textures around you. What do you feel? The clothes on your skin, things you are holding, the temperature outside. Notice how the textures change based on your pose, where you sit, in the sun and in the shade. Allow yourself to think on these things. When you’re ready, continue on your journey.

Stop Four can be found in the Howe Garden. From the third stop in the Burr Terrace Garden, make your way down the path to the left. The entrance is marked by a stone archway.

Stop Four: SCENTS

Finally, you will find yourself in the Howe Garden. Here you will focus more intently on scent. Take a deep breath in. What do you smell? Damp soil, flowers, stone, is there anything carried by the wind? There may be natural and unnatural scents. Try to gauge how these vary by distance to the source or in medley with the rest.

If something irritates you, let it pass as all things do.
Take three deep breaths. Each one deeper than the last.
Sit in gratitude, forgiveness, and assurance.
Think on these things as you reach the end of Walk One.

Good things stand like stone:
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.
—Cora Howe

WALK TWO: CURIOSITYAbout Walk TwoPrompts

Walk Two: Curiosity

Walk Two sprouts your curiosity in the veins of discovery at Cheekwood. Nestled below the Color Garden, the Blevins Japanese Garden draws you in as you focus on the variable paths that wind and loop through different perspectives. The final stops encourage exploration of the Robinson Family Water Gardens, which teem with life and questions waiting to be asked. Slow down, start to wonder, speak less, and seek answers- this is the path that you will wander in an effort to pursue curiosity, an excellent tool against anxiety and fear. 1

Drake, A., Doré, B. ., Falk, E.B. et al. Daily Stressor-Related Negative Mood and its Associations with Flourishing and Daily Curiosity. J Happiness Studies 23, 423–438 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-021-00404-2 1

About the Gardens

Blevins Japanese Garden

Blevins Japanese Garden (Shōmu-en)

The Blevins Japanese Garden (Shōmu-en) was originally designed by David Harris Engel in the 1970s and updated by architect Sadafumi Uchiyama in 2019. 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. 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.

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Robinson Family Water Garden

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. When the windows of the house were open, the sounds of trickling water could be heard inside, a feature that Mabel Cheek expressed to architect, Bryant Fleming, as a design necessity. Today, the Robinson Family Water Garden is 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.

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Walk Two will activate your recognition of possibilities over problem-solving by igniting curiosity and giving you the steps to learn more about your emotions before believing them. It’s a tool for taking the negative feelings of stress and anxiety and turning them into a positive opportunity for growth.2 You may also find it’s much more fun to be curious! This walk can be beneficial with a friend in addition to on your own.

Remember to allow yourself at least 10 minutes at the beginning of each walk to become present. Consider the sights, sounds, textures, and scents around you.

You can reach the Blevins Japanese Garden by continuing past Botanic Hall and turning left into the Bradford Robertson Color Garden. This path will guide you under an archway that leads to a round plaza with two inviting rabbits. Pass the rabbits and continue below the arches until the path branches to the left. Follow it, and you will see steps leading downward, which is the east entrance to the Japanese Garden.

Each stop on Walk Two is marked by a blue circle on the path with the first found in the Viewing Pavilion.

Before you begin:

Stand still and take a deep breath.

In and out.

Take note of how your body is feeling.

As you walk:

Bring attention to the movements and sensations in your body. Notice how your hips and shoulders move, your steps firm on the ground, how your chest rises and falls with each breath, gently and assuredly.

Celeste Kidd, Benjamin Y. Hayden. The Psychology and Neuroscience of Curiosity, Neuron, Volume 88, Issue 3, Pages 449-460, ISSN 0896-6273 (2015) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2015.09.010. 2

Each stop on Walk Two is marked by a blue circle on the path.


Stop One is found in the Blevins Japanese Garden Viewing Pavilion. Pause for a moment and let yourself think. It doesn’t have to be about anything in particular. Your thoughts could be on the rock bed and plants before your eyes, a past experience, a future experience, or another person’s thoughts and experiences. The possibilities are endless. There is time. Be intentional. Let your emotions wait just a moment and simply think. If your mind keeps gravitating to a specific area, then carry it with you as you walk. When you’re ready, continue on your journey.

Stop Two can be found by taking the gravel path to the right of the Viewing Pavilion and traveling up through the bamboo shoots. Near the top, turn right, staying on the gravel path.


At Stop Two, you are planted opposite the Viewing Pavilion, as if switching positions with your mirror-image or a friend across the table from you. Look back on your thoughts and readdress them as questions. A simple phrase beginning with, “I wonder…” could bring you anywhere. Wondering who, what, when, where, and how are the easiest questions to ask and open the doors to so many more. Write down as many questions as you can think of and try to be specific. When you’re ready, continue on your journey.

Stop Three can be found at the Russell W. Bates Water Garden Picnic Area. Exit the Japanese Garden and turn towards the ponds and the area with picnic tables.


Now that the questions are flowing, take a moment in the Russell W. Bates Water Garden Picnic Area, to focus on the ones that interest you the most. Think on what you already know about the subject. Where can you find answers to the things you don’t yet know? People, libraries, the internet, or museums? What sources do you trust? An answer may not be as straightforward as it appears and should be approached with careful consideration before full commitment. When you’re ready, continue on your journey.

Stop Four can be found along the side of the Water Gardens. From Water Garden Picnic Area, continue away from the Japanese Garden.


The closing stop in Curiosity is off the paved path and along the banks of the Robinson Family Water Gardens. Much of this walk has likely been done in silence, listening to your thoughts as they pass by. An easy task when you set time aside, but more difficult when you pursue answers amid everyday life. You may find that the emotions stirred up along your walk continued to shift as you developed new thoughts on each topic. If you had jumped to react before exploring them, your response could have been very different from what was needed. Use this time to strengthen the skill of speaking less and take note of your changes in perspective.

Take three deep breaths. Each one deeper than the last.
Sit in gratitude, forgiveness, and assurance.
Think on these things as you reach the end of Walk Two.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” —John Muir

Closing Thoughts

Like a garden, our minds, bodies, and spirits must be cared for. The desire and intentionality to grow and learn about oneself, and the relationship of oneself with the rest of the world, is something to be cultivated. Cheekwood hopes that you can find the opportunities to explore internally and externally in her gardens. For medical and professional help in understanding your mind, body, and spirit, Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Osher Center for Integrative Health offers scientifically proven therapies in harmony with existing medical care to support the whole self. More than treating symptoms, this integrative medicine empowers you to take an active part in your healing and wellness so you can enjoy a better quality of life. Additional resources from Vanderbilt are available online via My Southern Health, a blog which covers topics of wellness, family, food, and health.

I encourage you to accept that you may not be able to see a path right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.”―Nick Vujicic, Life Without Limits

“There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast withers rapidly; that which grows slowly endures.” —Josiah Gilbert Holland

“The truth is you and I are in control of only two things – how we prepare for what might happen and how we respond to what just happened.” —DeVon Franklin

Futher Reading

On Presence:

  • “15-Minute Walking Meditation,” by John Davisi. Via Goodful YouTube playlist, “Meditation”
  • “Three Types of Gratitude-and Practices to Develop Each One,” by David Sudar. Via pathofsincerity.com
  • “Stay Grounded with Mindful Walking” via changetochill.org by Alina Health

On Curiosity:

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