Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Botanical Garden Review - Cheekwood, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

I'm a big fan of botanical gardens in general, and since Cheekwood is my hometown garden, naturally I have warm and fuzzy feelings toward it.

And yet, I don't get to Cheekwood as often as I would like. I used to live just around the corner, but since we moved further away, it's become a special occasion sort of trip.

But just to be masochistic, we decided to visit Cheekwood on a typically hot and muggy August day (~95 degrees). The good part is that the garden wasn't that crowded. The bad part is that it was 95 degrees! We carried LOTS of water, sought out shade and hydrated constantly.

I wanted to see which plants were thriving in Middle TN despite the heat. Here's some of what we saw:

Big bee on unidentified purple flowers. Anyone know what these flowers are?

Beautiful goldfinch snacking on cone flower seeds, I believe

Two more goldfinches munching on coneflower seeds. I like goldfinches and I like coneflowers. They go together like Rice Krispies and milk.

I was so focused on getting a photo of this handsome grasshopper before he hopped off that I didn't even notice this white flower until I uploaded the photo. What do you think? Could it be a balloon flower?

These green and gold bushes were really dazzling and looked simply luminous and healthy despite the baking heat. They were pared (as you can see) with hostas that had a similar color scheme. I'm not a huge fan of hostas (is that sacrilegious to admit?) but I did like this big bush. Anyone know what it's called? I'm pretty sure I've seen it in a catalog, but I can't remember the name and it looks like it would be a great shrub for Middle TN if it can handle this summer's heat, humidity and drought and still look this good. PS - Could it be Aucuba japonica??

Beautiful groundcover, dotted with charming pink flowers. I'm thinking that the leaves and buds look a lot like zinnias, but these were really short and the flowers seemed pretty different from zinnias that I've grown. What do you think? Are they zinnias? And if so, what variety?  Maybe one of the Profusion series?


1) Art + Gardens -- Cheekwood has both an (air-conditioned) art museum housed in an historic mansion and numerous gardens. It's a nice mix. When you get hot and tired (or, in the winter, cold and tired) there's a climate-controlled space to cool down or warm up. And if you're a history buff or a coffee drinker, you might be interested in visiting Cheekwood just for the Maxwell House connection...

2) New Literary, Rain and Wildflower Gardens -- Like other parts of Middle Tennessee, Cheekwood has suffered its share of severe weather lately. As I recall, one particularly severe storm wreaked havoc in what had been a shade garden, necessitating a complete rethinking and replanting of that space. The newly renovated Howe Garden is not only a beautiful space in its own right, but also does a good job explaining some of the concepts and importance of rain gardens. And I simply adored the Hobbit-esque house stone house with the thatched roof in the Howe Garden. Plus there's a new Sigourney Cheek Literary Garden too where readings are held on a monthly basis. I haven't been to any of the readings yet, but it looks like there is a small rock amphitheater that has been built to foster intimate storytelling sessions and I can easily imagine that the result is charming. Paths throughout the new gardens are well-constructed and comfortable for strolling.

3) The People -- As elsewhere in Nashville, my experience is that Cheekwood staffers, particularly the gardeners and the museum docents, tend to be kind, cheerful and polite, which makes any botanical garden visit more enjoyable.

Constructive Criticism:

1) Variety, or Lack Thereof: I believe that a botanical garden should serve both aesthetic and educational purposes. Cheekwood has loads of dogwood trees and an impressive alley of crape myrtles. Both certainly fit into the local horticultural vernacular and deserve a place in the garden, but I would have very much liked to see more variety and more unusual specimens among the plants on display.

2) Give Me a Sign: I don't mean to be harsh, but I thought signage was simply dreadful through the gardens we visited. Seeing an interesting plant and finding a identifying tag was the exception to the rule. And sometimes in the rare occasions where ID tags did exist they were illegible due to their location literally 20-feet from the path in the middle of a landscaped bed sporting a sign pleading with visitors to stay on the path. It would have been more helpful in that scenario to have a large illustrated sign near the path explaining what plants were in the bed and offering photos of each one. There are one or two signs in the Howe Garden that take this approach, but again, they are the exception rather than the rule. Thus my confusion and pleas for assistance in identifying some of the beautiful plants in the photos above...

3) A Feast for the Senses: Gardening is about beauty, but taste is also one of the five senses. How about adding a demonstration vegetable garden that might inspire visitors to grow some of their own food and even show them that a potager can be aesthetically pleasing? I guess it would be a lot of work to maintain, but I think it would be a valuable addition to what Cheekwood has to offer (and probably would help make the garden more historically accurate, since I would imagine the Cheek family grew some crops on site back in the day...)

PS - If you have children or you are a child-at-heart, this month is a great time to visit Cheekwood to see some incredible giant treehouses based on famous works of literature!


  1. I agree the treehouses are definitely for the kids. Very nice review. We love Cheekwood!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks RK!

      I'm not too familiar with Penta, but it seems to have some pretty nice attributes, per Dave's Garden -

      Do you have any experience growing it? It seems like it can tolerate heat and full sun, but there seem to be mixed opinions on whether it's drought-tolerant. And do you have to grow it as an annual in Zone 6/7 or can you cut it down and hope it will come back?

      Sorry for so many questions ;-)

  3. You have to love the goldfinch, they love niger seeds which we feed them. For us they are one of our most colorul birds.


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