A garden takes at least three years to mature and the Howe Garden is looking terrific year one.
Click here to see Terry Buldger's interview of Master Roof Thatcher Colin McGee.
Click here to see the interview with Jane Offenbach, President and CEO of Cheekwood and Lisa Campbell, President of The Garden Club of Nashville on More at Midday.
Mrs. Howe's Garden
On sunny, spring Sunday afternoons, after church and Sunday dinner, many a
Nashvillian during the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and even 1960s took a drive over to
1925 East Greenwood Avenue for a look at "Wildings," the splendid garden of
Mr. and Mrs. Harry Howe. The eight acres, filled with dogwoods, redbuds,
azaleas and a half-acre of wildflowers, all under a canopy of venerable oaks,
beeches, maples and hickories, was for almost forty years one of Nashville's
most famous gardens, featured in books and magazines and attracting as many
as 2,000 visitors a day. Mrs. Howe herself warmly welcomed the visitors she
loved so well, offering lemonade and home-made cookies along with a personal
tour of the garden.
Harry and Cora Howe were New England transplants who moved to Nashville in
the early 1920s, buying property in then elegant East Nashville to build their
English-style home and develop a garden around it. Harry Howe later wryly
recalled that one of the original attractions of the property was that it was free of
rocks, but a few short years later, he found himself hauling tons of them home in
his 16-cylinder Cadillac. Each had been carefully selected by his wife, who
graced the garden with dry stone walls, a rock-edged creek, a naturalistic pond
with a stone bridge, a stone garden house and strategically placed boulders, one
of them a natural birdbath. And then there were the wildflowers, finally about 135
species of them, most native to Tennessee. In 1929, the Howes opened the
garden to the public, and its beauty and fame grew with each passing decade.
But gardens, even those that are someone's lifelong passion, are only fleeting
moments in the scroll of time, and so it almost was with "Wildings." When the
Howes died within eighteen months of each other in the mid-60s, there was no
way their heirs--Mr. Howe's devoted former secretary and Mrs. Howe's loyal
former companion--could afford the three gardeners it had taken to keep up
"Wildings." The fortunes of East Nashville had changed, as well, and it was no
longer a desirable address for buyers wealthy enough to maintain the extensive
grounds. It seemed as if the garden were doomed, and so it would have been
except for Mrs. Howe's friends in the Garden Club of Nashville, where she had
been the long-time treasurer.
Two of them approached the Club's president, Elizabeth Craig Proctor, desperate
to rescue Cora Howe's life's work. In 1967, Mrs. Proctor persuaded the Board of
Directors of Cheekwood, where she was a member of the Botanical Committee,
to allow "Wildings" to be moved to Cheekwood if sufficient funds could be raised.
A year later, the amazing operation began. Detailed drawings were made to
ensure that the spirit of "Wildings" would be replicated at Cheekwood, and in a
snowy December dawn the garden began its trek--plant by plant, stone by stone
to a new home ten miles away.
What a scene it must have been. One of Mrs. Howe's elderly gardeners, Elvin
Cantrell, was there, too infirm to dig but able to help direct the others. Charles
Ellis, member of the Cheekwood Botanical Committee, was on hand very early,
but not as early as one of Mrs. Howe's closest friends and fellow Garden Club
member, Mrs. Edward Graham. Though 84 years old, Mrs. Graham stayed all
day directing the movers. The willing crew dug up dogwoods, cut the garden
house in half for transport, loaded boulders, including the one shaped like a
birdbath, and dismantled walls. Then they reinstalled it all where we see it today,
on a sloping, tree-sheltered half-acre in Cheekwood's southeast corner.
On April 29, 1969, Cheekwood's brave new tenant was dedicated as the Howe
Wildflower Garden; lemonade and home-made cookies were served, just as if
Mrs. Howe had been there. The Garden Club of Nashville has continued to
support the Howe Garden, underwriting its maintenance and improvement with
funds raised by the annual Wildflower Fair, Rare Plant Auction and
other activities. Over the past 31 years, the garden has continued to welcome
thousands of visitors each year, its quiet beauty inviting rest and contemplation,
and its charming wildflowers teaching an evocative lesson about nature and
Today, the Howes' graceful and unpretentious East Nashville home sits hemmed
in by dozens of apartment buildings that have consumed the eight acres where
"Wildings" once lay. A single stately oak in the front yard is the only ghost of the
garden's former glory. But in the Howe Garden at Cheekwood, the spirit of
"Wildings" remains, and perhaps even that of Cora Howe herself. As May Buntin
Hill, former member of the Cheekwood Board of Directors and one of the people
instrumental in the move of "Wildings" to Cheekwood, said many years later, "I
have really seen the wildflower garden grow by leaps and bounds. I think Mrs.
Howe would have liked it here.
To acknowledge and celebrate the rich design history of the original “Wildings” garden created by Mrs. Harry A. Howe (Cora) in 1922 in East Nashville and moved in 1968 to Cheekwood by the Garden Club of Nashville, a member of the Garden Club of America.
To grow and display in the Howe Garden a selected representation of the native flora of the southeastern United States, including both common and rare species.
To encourage the propagation, distribution, conservation and use of native plants in the landscape, as well as foster knowledge and appreciation of plants in their native habitats.
The Garden Club of Nashville was responsible in 1968 for the relocation of the late Mrs. Harry A. Howe’s wildflower garden, “Wildings,” given in entirety to The Tennessee Botanical Gardens and Fine Arts Center at Cheekwood. Renamed The Howe Garden at Cheekwood, this unique environment is home to over 40 species of native trees and shrubs and is The Garden Club of Nashville’s ongoing project.
In 1983, The Garden Club of Nashville was awarded The Garden Club of America’s Founders Fund Award to establish a center in The Howe Garden for the Propagation and Distribution of Endangered Species.
The success of this center has provided members of The Garden Club of Nashville the opportunity to be dedicated conservationists and guardians of their natural resources.
Dear Garden Club of Nashville,
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that the Board of Directors of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has authorized a discretionary grant to Garden Club of Nashville to restore and reinstall the 1931 Wemyss/Kerrigan iron gates at the entrances to the Howe Garden at Cheekwood. Your organization’s grant was selected from among hundreds of applications. It represents our continuing interest in and support of the fine work you do in addressing the needs of our community. We wish you much success with your work and with your efforts to attract additional sources of support. We are grateful that you took the time to apply; without good requests, we can’t make good grants. Thank you for thinking of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
After three years of planning and hard work on the part of The Garden Club of Nashville, Ben Page and Wade Rick of Page/Duke, Matt Daniel of The Carter Group Juan of Natchez Stone, Samara Farms, Mike Berkley at GroWild and the garden staff of Cheekwood and many others, the Howe Garden is open to the public at Cheekwood.
Mrs. Howe's Garden at Cheekwood reopens after a year long renovation.
Thanks to Mr. Jim Cheek, we now have many of the original photos of Mrs. Howe's Garden. We can now see that or renovation closely resembles Mrs. Howe's Garden "Wildings".
"Wildings" was originally moved from East Nashville in 1968 from the garden of the late Mrs. Harry A. Howe. Under the guidance of Page/Duke Landscape Architects, the Howe Gardenis getting a fresh face for the next century at Cheekwood.
The Garden Club of Nashville is delighted to announce the renovation of our beloved Howe Garden.
As stewards of Mrs. Howe’s garden, the GCN is taking this opportunity to re-establish the infrastructure of the garden and bring the sprawling garden back to life. Through acknowledging the past and responding to today’s environmental concerns, the GCN hopes to provide a common place for many generations to come. Some of the exciting new features include:
A redefined area designated for the year round bold display of Mrs. Howe’s wildflowers including ephemeral favorites such as Trilliums, Virginia Bluebells, Trout Lilies and Celandine Poppies.
New plant and flower species that will provide four season interest and structure throughout the year to include 15 new trees and 161 new shrubs. An open 'amphitheater' grassy area surrounded by an embankment of large, carefully selected stones for small gatherings and educations opportunities.A rain garden that will showcase how to positively impact the environment with sweeps of varieties of grasses. The rain garden is designed to collect and slowly filter this water back through the roots of plants and back into the ground and ultimately keeping it on site. Dramatic entries ('doorways') will welcome visitors into the garden using the magnificent Wemyss' bronze wildflower gates designed by Philip Kerrigan.Evocative of the entire atmosphere of the original Bryant Fleming landscape at Cheekwood, a beautiful stone arched bridge and an atmospheric Tennessee stone spring house will accompany the original stone potting shed moved from the Howe's East Nashville garden, Wildings.
The Howe Garden began being renovated by the Carter Group in June 2011 and will open on April 18, 2012.
GroWild, Inc., an all native plant nursery, design and build firm, is located in Fairview, TN just 20 minutes west of Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. When The Garden Club of Nashville and Cheekwood partnered to rebuild and restore the Howe Garden, it was a natural fit for GroWild to receive a contract to grow most of the wildflowers, perennials and ferns for this extensive project. With an estimated delivery date of March 1, 2012, we began propagating and acquiring plant material in July 2011. The wildflowers (approx. 8958 in total) were requested to be grown in 3.5” containers while the ferns (2651 in total) were to be in 1 quart pots. With this in mind, it was agreed that some ferns would be suitable for bare root plantings allowing a larger 1 gallon root system for the same price or in some cases a less expensive price allowing for a bigger bang for their buck. This also proved to be a good choice for some wildflowers such as Trillium (which take seven years from seed to bloom), Jack in the Pulpit, Bloodroot, and Bleeding Heart.
We at GroWild are honored to be a part of history and look forward to seeing this garden as it matures through the years.
Samara Farms, a nursery located in Nashville Tennessee, was selected to contract grow the ornamental grasses for the reconstruction of the Howe Garden. The liners for the grasses were purchased from two different plug production nurseries. These nurseries were North Creek Nurseries and Hoffman nursery. The plugs were potted into 4” pots and grown in Samara Farms greenhouses. They are to be installed late September and early October 2011. The selections of grasses being produced are a perfect blend for the rain garden and will provide great horticulture value to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens.
These grasses will provide sustainable beauty to Cheekwood. We at Samara Farms are both honored and excited to be a part of the Howe Garden project.
Dear Garden Club of Nashville:
I was invited to join a boulder hunt. I reluctantly agreed and piled into the car. Not knowing anything about where we were going, or much less, who we were going to see, we drove for about an hour southeast of Nashville to Bradyville, Tennessee.
We turned down an unmarked gravel driveway to find an 84 year old man waiting for us. Avon Conley has been ‘farming’ rocks for over 35 years. He is the type of man that everyone knows. Whether it’s an old farm manager or hunting guide, everyone has met this type of person. He had several stories from days past, weathered skin and a thick East Tennessee ‘twang’ accent. He told us to follow him in his truck and just pointed to the top of a surrounding hill.
Fighting chiggers, ticks, rattlesnakes, and who knows what else, we walked down an old roadway on top of a cedar glade. We came across the perfect native Tennessee Limestone deposits I had ever seen. They’ve been weathering since the beginning of time and will be the perfect addition to The Howe Garden.
I’ve attached several photos of the boulders, and one of Avon himself, we found and wanted to pass them along to The Garden Club. These are perfect! And exactly what we are after in creating the amphitheater. I just got excited and wanted to pass along our most recent finds.
We needed a few boulders to created the perfect garden. Wade Rick went on a hunt!
The gates were moved from Fairview to Cheekwood in May of 2002 with the Garden Club funding the relocation and restoration of the gates. Garden Club of Nashville member, Peggy Conner, went to the Kerrigan Ornamental Ironworks on Fourth Avenue in the 1930’s with her mother, Helen Peters Wemyss to watch the fabrication of the now famous Wemyss gates at Cheekwood.
The gates contain 12 double faced, square bronze panels for a total of 48 panels. Every panel features a different flower, sculpted in wrought iron relief. Mrs. Wemyss chose cultivated and wildflowers in her garden as subject matter for the bronze panels.
Brother and Sister, Billy Wemyss and Peggy Conner, flipped a coin to see who would get the much beloved gates. They flipped three times with Mrs. Conner winning two out of the three flips. Jointly they decided that the best home for the gates was the Garden Club of Nashville’s Howe Garden at Cheekwood. The gates were moved to Cheekwood in May of 2002 with the Garden Club funding the relocation and restoration of the gates.
Aaron Durnin is restoring the Wemyss Gates.
Mrs. Howe had actually put a pine needle thatched roof on her tool house some 15 years earlier, that had not held up in the Nashville climate. She had noticed in a magazine that the most attractive thatched roof came from Cambridgeshire, so in January of 1949, she sent a letter to the postmaster in Cambridge England, asking him if he knew of a good thatcher and a source for reeds. Many communications later, she had both. The supplies were sent along with “how to” books from England. Mrs. Howe’s carpenter Erwin Taylor and gardner Elvin Cantrell completed the task.
In 1949, it seemed safe to say that Mrs. Howe’s Thatched Tool House was the only one in Tennessee to get a new roof. Well, 62 years later, it is getting another by The Roof Thatchers.
We were thrilled to find out that one of the finest specimens of a Torreya Taxifolia Tree is in the Howe Garden at Cheekwood. The Torreya is on the Federal Endangered Plant List. Not only is our tree exquisite but is was covered green fig like pods of mature fruit that made it prime time to propagate. Before the squirrels got a chance, members of the Garden Club of Nashville gathered over 700 seeds. The outer sarcotesta was washed off after the harvest and all seeds were then put in large plastic bags surrounded by moist sphagnum moss until time to plant. Edward Croom, PhD, Adjunct Associate Professor of Pharmacognosy in Oxford MS, lead the group in washing the seeds ad planting them in plastic pots. Several of the trees have sprouted.
In the renovation of the Howe Garden, the entire project has been centered around the preservation on the Torreya
In December of 2009, The Garden Club of Nashville in conjunction with Cheekwood, began propogating the Torreya Taxifolia Tree located in the Howe Garden.
The rain garden is an aesthetic approach to treating stormwater run-off. Most of Cheekwood’s water shed runs through the Howe Garden before leaving the site in concrete pipes. that go to the metro stormwater system. The rain garden is designed to collect and slowly filter this water back through the roots of plants and back into the ground and ultimately keeping it on site. The area will be filled with vivid sweeps of native flowers and shrubs that thrive in wet conditions and become he actual workhorses of the natural system of water recycling.
Using the most advanced ideas of how to manage on-site storm water, this area will become a showcase of how to positively impact the environment by recharging our ground water systems.