There is always something happening in Cheekwood's Botanical Gardens. From the Robertson Ellis Color Garden bursting with season displays of colorful annuals, to the formal Martin Boxwood Garden, visitors can walk through the 55 acres and discover different styles and periods of gardens and study a wide selection of plants that can be grown in Middle Tennessee. A listing of each of Cheekwood's gardens follows.
The Howe Garden at Cheekwood is one of our most beloved gardens and has recently undergone a near-$1 million renovation thanks to the Garden Club of Nashville. The new transformation of the garden includes a renovation of the original Wildings garden and the addition of a state-of-the-art rain garden.
Sigourney Cheek Literary Garden
Celebrating the remarkable life of Sigourney Cheek, our new Literary Garden will offer Cheekwood’s guests a place to seek solace and inspiration with a gorgeous view of the Tennessee hills. The amphitheater setting was specially designed to host poetry and book readings for groups of up to 40 people, with additional space for receptions and other social gatherings.
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. A large wisteria arbor overlooks the formal plantings and a reflection pool with statues of Thalia and Urania. There are broad views of the nearby hills, spectacular in the fall. Visitors to these old gardens find themselves transported to another time and place. The 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. Although this was a green garden when the Cheeks lived here, it is now planted with localized areas of color, and decorative containers are staged around the house.
Robertson Ellis Color Garden
An avenue of crepe 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 tropicals. 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, pines, and hackberries. 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, European ginger, ferns, hydrangeas, and hellebores are planted at ground level. Visitors will also find an informal gazebo surrounded by native azaleas.
Herb Study Garden
The herbs are our link to the past. On every continent there is folklore of plants and their uses. This garden, installed in 1983, displays herbal plants that can be grown in Middle Tennessee. There are plants to touch and smell, to use for cooking, fragrance, dyes, fibers, and cosmetics. There are culinary herbs whose leaves, flowers, or seeds are used in flavoring and decorating food. There are also herbs for other household purposes.
Japanese Garden, Shomu-en
Shomu-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 garden reaches its peak in the summer when the succession of color culminates with asters, salvias, sunflowers, rudbeckias, and ornamental grasses. Jesse Wills was deeply concerned with wildlife gardening. In keeping with his views, the seed pods and dried flower stalks are left for the birds and animals.
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 (approved American Daffodil Society Display Garden) 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
This perennial garden was installed in 1972 in memory of Elizabeth Parkes Burr. It is reminiscent of a garden in Padua, Italy, dating back to 1542, that is considered to be the oldest surviving botanical garden in the world. The Burr Garden is an enclosed cottage garden on three levels with pastel colored perennials, an armillary bed, and a fountain. The flowering season begins in early spring with blooming perennials and contrasting violas. Summer presents a sea of color with summer phlox, blue star, columbine and purple cone flower. In the fall, asters, dahlias, and anemones are evident. Near the circular fountain there is an arbor with the elegant rose ‘New Dawn’.
Robinson Family Water Garden
The original design of the Cheekwood 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 hardy water plants with shade loving perennials found growing along the banks. The sound of cascading water is heard as you walk along a rocky stream examining the fern collection, hellebores, hostas, and heucheras. This is a delightful place for a family picnic.
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.