Out in the Garden

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This story was originally published in the 2014 June/July issue of Chattanooga Magazine.

Travelers looking for gardens to visit often head to large estates. Asheville’s Biltmore House and Bellingrath Gardens and Home near Mobile, Alabama immediately come to mind. But there are many other places to satisfy gardeners’ interest.

Here are three other gardens to consider visiting this summer—or any other time of year, depending on whether you prefer spring flowers, fall foliage or a snow-dusted landscape. This group of gardens includes one country estate, a woodlands park and an unusual enclave in the Ozarks.

Garvan Woodland Gardens
Hot Springs, Arkansas
To say that Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Ark., has something for almost every taste in gardens sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t. The 210-acre park includes wildflowers, bonsai, mature trees and cultivated flowers. There are scenic overlooks—including awe-inspiring views of the Ouachita Mountains across Lake Hamilton—and bridges over ponds, waterfalls and rock formations. Peacocks strut about the park, filling it with their cries.

The botanical garden was the brainchild of Arkansas businesswoman and amateur gardener Verna C. Garvan (1911-1993) and now belongs to the University of Arkansas. Seasonal programming includes massive springtime plantings of daffodils and tulips and two million lights for the annual “Holiday Lights” celebration from mid-November through December 31.

There’s a garden pavilion designed by Arkansas native E. Fay Jones (1921-2004), whose work involves soaring ceilings and exposed rafters in a blending of indoor and outdoor spaces. Jones’ surviving partner Maurice Jennings and David McKee designed popular wedding venue Anthony Chapel, which has a 57-foot-high ceiling made of pine and glass.

A children’s area on the property includes a manmade cave and a maze formed by native Arkansas boulders. Paved trails run throughout the grounds; tours are also offered on golf carts. A gift shop stocks garden-themed items; a small café serves lunch at picnic tables near a miniature railroad. Dogs are also allowed in the gardens for a small fee.

Garvan Woodland Gardens is located at 550 Arkridge Road, Hot Springs, Ark. (800-366-4664; garvangardens.org). Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (noon to 9 p.m. during “Holiday Lights”); closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and the month of January. Admission is $10; $9 for ages 55 and older; $5 for ages 6 to 12.

Compton Gardens
Bentonville, Arkansas
At six-and-a-half acres, Compton Gardens in Bentonville, in northwest Arkansas, is the smallest of this trio, but the park packs a lot of variety in that space. The park is distinctive for its hilly terrain—but a half-mile paved trail makes it accessible—and vast array of plantings, including more than 55 species of trees. Plants here include native, non-native and Ozark-specific varieties.

The land originally belonged to Dr. Neil Compton (1912-1999), a local physician known for his conservationist activities. Compton Gardens connects to the art trail of its neighbor the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (which is built on land once owned by Dr. Compton) and also leads to downtown Bentonville.

Dr. Compton planted many of the trees on the property and was also an avid grower of azaleas, which are now gathered in a garden near the Compton’s former home. This mid-century residence was designed by a former student of architect Fay Jones and now serves as a conference and event center.

A stream runs through the park and into a spring. The park’s bird sanctuary is home to a number of species; and an amusing road sign alerts visitors to rabbit and turtle crossings—a hint to the varied wildlife attracted by the habitats and vegetation found here.

Compton Gardens is located at 312 N. Main St., Bentonville, Ark. (479-254-3870; peelcompton.org). Free tours of the park are offered on a regular basis and its namesake trail for walkers and cyclists is open to the public daily from dawn till dusk. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art
Nashville, Tennessee
Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art in Nashville features 10 display gardens—among them a color garden, a Japanese garden and a wildflower space—on a 55-acre country estate. The grounds also include a historic house, art museum and a 15-piece sculpture trail carpeted in wood chips and set amidst a number of native species of trees and plants.

Cheekwood’s varied terrain includes pathways, rolling hills, bodies of water, steps, small bridges and smooth lawns. Many of the areas are also accessible for wheelchairs and strollers and there are numerous spots for contemplation (or catching one’s breath). A café and gift shop are also on the grounds.

The historic mansion at the center of the estate was built in the early 1930s and once belonged to Leslie and Mabel Cheek, whose extended family included the creators of Maxwell House Coffee. Along with glimpses of how the home was furnished during the family’s time there, the house offers awe-inspiring views of the grounds and surrounding woodlands. (Though Nashville has grown up around the estate, for the most part the modern city doesn’t impinge on the views.)

Every spring massive amounts of tulips are planted (100,000 in 2014); fall brings chrysanthemums. Beginning in 2015, Cheekwood will also mount a large-scale annual holiday lights display. Over the past few years Cheekwood has begun using its expansive gardens as an environment for showcasing art; this summer brings David Rogers’ large-scale insect sculptures made from tree limbs and other found natural materials. “Big Bugs” will be on view through August 31 and will be lighted for nighttime viewing.

Sculptor Patrick Dougherty’s fanciful “Little Bitty Pretty One” will be at Cheekwood till spring 2016. The piece is a combination garden folly and sculpture that visitors can walk through. Previous exhibitions on the grounds provided two other Cheekwood features that delight visitors of all ages: a tree house designed and built by local architects and a model railroad display.

Cheekwood is located at 1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville (615-356-8000; cheekwood.org). Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; till 10 p.m. Friday nights May through October. Admission is $14 for adults, seniors $12 and children 3-17 are $7. Parking is $3 per car.

Check your museum/garden memberships: membership to one institution may entitle you to free admission to a sister organization.

Story by MiChelle Jones
Photography courtesy of Garvan Woodland Gardens, Compton Gardens
and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens

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