GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2006 show14
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Show #14/401


Garden design has played an important role in history. Design influences from all over the world have made their way to the U.S. and certainly that's no exception at Cheekwood Gardens in Nashville, Tennessee. Cheekwood is a public botanical garden and museum of art tucked away in a residential area of Nashville. It is the former home of the Cheek family and dates back to the 1930's. The property is located on 55 acres of rolling hills and streams. Besides the natural beauty everywhere you look there are many historical design elements.

Jack Becker is the President/CEO of Cheekwood and provides some background on this wonderful spot. Construction began on this home and property in 1929 and was completed in the early 1930's. The Cheek family hired a very talented landscape architect named Bryant Fleming to lay out the house and grounds. He created an integrated experience of indoor and outdoor spaces. Today visitors can explore the 1930's landscape, botanical gardens and the museum itself. No matter the time of year there is always something to see or do, the gardens change change weekly, monthly, by the season. There is a wonderful sculpture garden, inside the museum is interesting as well and the Pineapple Room is a great place to have lunch or coffee. Jack feels that Cheekwood is one of Nashville's crown jewels and well worth an entire day visit for the family. He welcomes Garden Smart and invites those in the audience to visit.

Dr. Tonia Horton is the Director of Exhibitions and Programs at Cheekwood. She is a landscape architect and public historian by training. Tonia grew up in Virginia, her family has been there for 9 generations. When growing up the historical landscapes of Tidewater, Virginia were nearby, thus her sensibilities about history and landscape started early on. Her first job was at the Smithsonian, dealing with American Art where she quickly came to the realization she really wanted to design. So, she became a landscape architect and worked primarily with the National Park Service. She then decided to get a PhD. in public history and continued to work with the Park Service as a manager of the Cultural Landscape Program in Alaska where she oversaw a program that covered 55 million acres and 15 National Parks. Here at Cheekwood she is in charge of 55 acres and has a challenge of a different sort.

Cheekwood is a country era estate that was designed by Bryant Fleming for the Cheek family. The Cheek family had helped originate Maxwell House Coffee, then used their proceeds to buy into IBM. They built a rather imposing structure. The good fortune was that they had an architect who was also a landscape architect and he was able to advise them on how to build the structure, how to furnish the structure and how to marry all that with a landscape that reflected the same aesthetic. A prime example of this is the magnificent arbor. Bryant Fleming commissioned a young Nashvillian, Philip Carrigan, age 29 (his first commission), to create the wonderful arbor. It now stands as a signature piece for Cheekwood because of its ability to bring together the inside and outside. It also leads visitors into a view of the landscape, which is spectacular. This view is commanding but when one realizes that it actually links the home and gardens it becomes even more special.

In the far distance one sees through the trees and sees a pair of lions that were actually at Jefferson's Monticello. Looking further in the distance, one notices dark stones, these are a sculpture done by the Scottish Sculpture, Ian Hamilton Finley, and mark the beginning of the sculpture trail. This view encapsulates not only the aesthetic of Bryant Fleming but marries the old and the new in the landscape at Cheekwood.

Tonia discusses the paths on which they're walking, she and Joe have moved from very smooth steps to very rough steps. These are native limestone, quarried from the site. Fleming utilized native stone steps throughout the upper part of the house and garden. Tonia thinks this important, people always talk about the use of native plants, here native stone is very much a part of the aesthetic. But again, another transition, as one moves from rough stones into a very soft, grassy turf, which is a part of their boxwood garden. This area is green and green, which is very cool on a hot summer day. Joe feels that it is cool and soft because the turf provides soft footing. The boxwoods have a maze-like quality. Originally they weren't as high, they've grown over time increasing the maze-like effect. One can hear the sound of water in the background and little hints of sculpture become apparent. One can't quite see them, one must move around a little in this landscape. Joe finds the views looking back at the house as dramatic as those looking into the landscape. Tonia says that is a hallmark of great design - one can look at a view from any angle and see the artistry. They round a bend a once again, see another grand view, again by design, part of Bryant Fleming's aesthetic. The creation of this composition includes all kinds of spaces - open space, a newer garden, 3 ponds, all are actually part of the original landscape design. The landscape now begins to open itself up, particularly so after one has been in the very enclosed boxwood garden. This space is the Wills Perennial Garden. This is a newer garden that was constructed in 1981. Tonia finds the shift between the older historic garden, which is more strict and more formal, into a very naturalized area with beautiful plants, very interesting. The steps here add continuity. They are still native limestone, that lead one to this point. The garden also capitalizes on what Tonia calls "old bones, new garden." Here some of the historic retaining wall is mirrored with newer rock walls, with plants added so that it looks like it's always been here.

Another interesting thing about landscape design dates back to the Romans and the idea of Genius of Place, which is that every place had a guardian spirit and that human beings had a responsibility to interact and discover what was in that place. Tonia thinks that is an important design aesthetic, particularly for a contemporary culture that moves around a lot. We don't take the time to discover what's in our place and respond to it in our landscapes. Bryant Fleming captured the spirit of this particular place for the Cheek family and she thinks that resonates throughout the landscape.

Joe likes the transition from the stone pathway to the turf, it softened it up. As well, the retaining wall has beautiful historic stone but at the same time nice plant material with lots of different varieties utilized. They've incorporated Sedum, which are low maintenance and tough plants and Creeping Raspberry always a tough plant that adds a lot of contrast and texture. It will spread and spill out as much as wanted or cut it back, keep it contained. Joe likes it, as he looks over the perennial garden he sees classic hot colors, the reds and bright yellows but also cooler colors, the blues and purples and soft pinks and soft yellows. They all blend together nicely as a good perennial garden design should. Joe also likes the way when rounding the corner one sees different shades of green. Joe always likes to emphasize that green is a color, just like reds, purples and blues. But there are different shades of green. He likes the light colored sedum, it has almost a grey blue look, yet is a shade of green. The same is true with the ornamental grass, not a classic green but a version. It just shows that one doesn't need flowers to create a lot of interest in the garden.

Tonia next show us an area where it is not only about the visual display, as in the perennial garden, but about educating visitors, about drought resistant plants. Here with the use of the historic retaining wall, they've added additional elements. The heat generated by the wall, as well as the southern exposure creates micro-climates and allows them to grow plants like the Yucca. In olden times they used micro-climates to extend the season. In colonial times, in particular in the U.S., fruit trees were prize specimens, they would build particular fences and others to create micro-climates, so they could force fruits at various times of the year.

Joe has a Garden Smart Tip. If you want to garden year round, you should try gardening hydroponically. If you've never heard of the term, it means gardening without soil. Joe shows some plants that were grown hydroponically. These are pepper plants and were started 2 months ago, some already have peppers on them. One hydroponic system is an ebb and flow system, the water comes in and fills the tank about 3 times a day, the water then empties. These plants develop a vigorous root system. Another way to grow hydroponically is through a wicking system. The water stays in and the roots wick up the water. Tomatoes are growing in another ebb and flow system, they were started from seed 3 months ago. A good thing about hydroponic gardening is that there is no soil, so all the nutrients come from the water. Specialized fertilizers are available just for that purpose. They also make specialized lighting, so for any size garden there is a light to handle it. If you have houseplants or plants on a deck, a great system these days is a drip irrigation system, it's a hydroponic system. Water drips out of a ring continuously so you have perpetual hydration. These will work with any plant and if you like to garden year round hydroponics is a great way to go.

Joe and Tonia continue their garden tour. Joe feels that this is a strolling garden. Tonia agrees and says it is an interesting place to work in design landscape. There are many paths that lead to many gardens. Things change daily. Seasonally, it's like experiencing each place anew every time one comes through. There are a lot of repeat visitors, a lot of families come out for that precise reason, to just stroll through the grounds. It's much like a public park except it's a botanic garden. The gardens offer many places to stop, sit, relax and take in the view.

Joe and Tonia stop at one such place. Tonia feels it is a special part of the landscape. It's actually an historic element that dates to the Bryant Fleming design. This is a stream garden and is known as the Robinson Family Water Garden. It originates below the facade of the house, continues through the landscape and culminates in 3 terraced ponds. It provides a wonderful location in which to work with hydric plants, water loving plants, as well as shade loving plants.

This area provides Tonia an opportunity to explain linear design. When most people think of gardens they think of garden beds - rectangles or squares. For linear, think of a ribbon lying lightly on the land. In this particular case if the sides of that ribbon were planted you'd have your linear design. So, the gardens are not just static, they actually move along the side of the water. It makes for a wonderful design and garden.

Joe notices that along with all the water loving plants he looks and sees plants that love moisture so they do well next to the water. These include many fern varieties, as well as Heuchera and Iris. They are a great combination and look great together.

They next come upon a secret garden that one doesn't see until in. This has an interesting story. It is the relocated garden of Mrs. Cora Howell, who was an avid Nashville gardener, and it was also the 1st public garden in Nashville. It was built at her residence, her name for it was Wildings. She was one of the 1st advocates for wild flower gardening. She opened it to the public in 1929 and it was open until her death in 1968. Because it was such an important garden for Nashville and within wildflower gardening circles, the Garden Club of Nashville decided to relocate the garden to Cheekwood. Her potting shed and all her plant material is here. There have been additions to the native plant material but by and large what one sees is an historic garden brought to Cheekwood. Joe comments that to move this garden and plant material took a lot of work, the interested parties put a lot of significance into those plant rescues. This was done out of respect for Mrs. Howell and her love of wildflowers. Tonia thinks that the idea of transmitting plant material through families and through friends is a trend that isn't much followed today. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries people were reliant on personal transfer of plants. Plants were like money, they were currency and were passed about town, passed to relatives. For example Tonia's mother has plants from Tonia's grandmother's garden, who had plants from her grandmother's garden. She thinks this is an important lesson in maintaining plant material over time. For one thing, with the varieties out there now, some of the older ones may be lost. Tonia feels it important that they're keeping some of the old varieties alive at Cheekwood. Joe points out that in olden times they didn't have nurseries on every corner like today allowing one to go out and buy needed plants, if they wanted a new plant they collected it from another person's garden. Plus, it was a social thing to do as a gardener, you never let a visitor leave the garden without giving them a cutting, something they could take back and perpetuate in their own garden. There is a lot of sentimental value to sharing plants. Tonia notes that when looking at planters like Washington and Jefferson, they had some of the most noted botanists of their time at their home collecting plants and seeds. Tonia thinks it noteworthy that there are plants being propagated today that were brought back by Lewis and Clark to Jefferson. They were grown in Philadelphia greenhouses, then disseminated throughout the south via railroad. We don't often think about how plants move around the country, the way plants are collected and assembled in gardens but Tonia thinks the whole idea of the legacy of plants is very important.

Joe likes the fact that gardens can have different looks. The one they just left was a deep shade, wildflower garden and now they're in a garden shaped like an amphitheater. This is a very different garden. It's part of the Herb Study Garden. It focuses on culinary and medicinal herbs, historic uses of herbs, the fragrances of herbs and different textures. This garden has a distinctive feel because of some of the historic artifacts such as portions of the ionic columns that were part of the original Tennessee state capital building in 1854. They were in poor condition in 1954 so they were brought down and pieces are here today. It lends a bit of grecian air to the amphitheater and everything works nicely together. This is a great site for weddings, several weeks ago they had a children's puppet performance here, it's an informal area used for all kinds of things. Tonia particularly likes the use of hardscape in this garden, it has been used differently here than in other gardens. Tonia points out that while everyone can't have pieces of the Tennessee state capitol in their garden, everyone can have elements in their garden that are interesting or important to them. Collect things that speak to ideas about ones self, our families, where one lives, even go to salvage yards, find unusual or personal pieces to incorporate into your garden. Things like the columns, although not in their original place, fit nicely into this garden and further the idea of Nashville, as the Athens of the south.

Every garden visited at Cheekwood has had some historical significance. The Burr Terrace Garden is no exception. It was designed with an old Italian botanic garden in mind and harkens back to the Renaissance, at the University of Padua, which was a teaching hospital. Botanic gardens at that time were serious business, they revolved more around the concept that empires brought back specimens that might be used for economic gain, they were places where medicines were produced and they were important places as opposed to today where seeds are collected and it's more like a public park. As well, this botanic garden somewhat replicates the Renaissance ideals of the geometric perfection of the circle within the square. There is an architectural form here, which is softened somewhat by the plants. In garden design centuries ago gardens were for functional purposes rather than for beauty. This garden, based on the Renaissance garden, a healing garden, attached to the University of Padula dating to 1540, has that in mind. It had a function, in terms of medicinal plants but it also showed off the Renaissance ideals of geometry in different forms that were important at that time. In modern times, research has shown that when people have the opportunity to spend time in a garden during convalescence, in many cases, they heal faster, it has also been shown that gardening is good for at-risk youth, critical care needs, even that gardening is good for the soul. Tonia feels that there is a resurgence in landscape architectural design with an emphasis on the healing garden and the therapeutic qualities of gardens.

Tonia believes that Cheekwood is a magical place and thinks that is largely due to the fact that it's a designed landscape and that design was expansive enough to include the shift from a residential landscape to a public landscape. Bryant Fleming's ideas were broad enough and expansive enough that they allowed for growth in this landscape, as we have been seen in the variety, scale and textures of the various gardens. There is something for everyone at Cheekwood.

Joe observes that even though this is a 55 acre estate there are many design principles that can be applied to home gardens even though they are on a much smaller scale. It's important that visitors keep their eyes open. One can always find ideas, understand how things fit both historically and in terms of color, texture and form. Then apply those principles to your own yard.

Joe thanks Tonia for her time and the tour. Her background and education provide a unique opportunity to observe gardens with an historical perspective. This is something new and unusual but most informative. Cheekwood Botanic Garden and Museum of Art is great. Thanks Tonia.

Links ::

Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center
Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum ofArt
Hydroponics, Growlights, Organics

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