“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” -Francis Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Despite having grown up in middle Tennessee and having lived in Nashville for the past two years, I have never been to Cheekwood before. I was vaguely aware that it had gardens and periodically did special events, but that was about it. Having a three day weekend for Labor Day, however, provided me the freedom to try some new things. So after a casual late breakfast, I decided to find out for myself exactly what Cheekwood is, and wow was I not disappointed.
The best way I can describe the botanical gardens of Cheekwood is that it’s like stepping out of the drudgery of the real world and into Neverland or The Secret Garden. Everywhere you look, you’re surrounded with moments of sheer beauty and inspiration. If I had an entire afternoon with no plans or responsibilities, I would bring a notebook, claim a bench, and let the environment inspire me.
My first stop was the Color Garden, which has large, expansive lawns and more flowers in one place than I’ve seen in a long time. I may not be able tell you their names, latin or otherwise (botany was always my worst subject), but I can appreciate them, and really took my time exploring the space.
Next up was the Japanese Garden, which starts very simply and then has two major wow factors: the bamboo forest, which more than any other part of Cheekwood made me feel transported not to another world, but to another part of the world; and the pavilion. You don’t realize it at first, but much of the Japanese Garden is hidden from view, completely tucked away until you reach the pavilion and all is revealed in one dramatic sweeping moment. The lady climbing the pavilion stairs in front of me audibly gasped, and while I personally didn’t make any noise, I’m sure my mouth was gaping. So few times in my life have I come across something so undeniably and breathtakingly picturesque – even though it was right in front of me, it somehow felt as if it couldn’t be real, like a mirage or an impressive trick of cinematography. When I finally left the pavilion, I felt a twinge of regret that I couldn’t stay longer, but the rest of Cheekwood was still before me, waiting to be seen and explored.
After making my way out of the Japanese Garden, I moved on to the Water Garden, which I found less stunning than my previous stop, but equally peaceful. For someone who dislikes swimming and has never enjoyed water sports or spending a day on the lake, I find standing on the edge of the water to be oddly soothing, and the same goes for the lovely water features winding throughout this particular part of the garden.
The last garden I took in before going inside for a bit to escape the heat was the Perennial Garden next the Cheekwood mansion itself. The flowers were lovely, of course, but I found myself drawn more towards the actual pathways themselves, the way they twisted and turned so you couldn’t see too far ahead and instead had to go explore for yourself. The stone steps in particular were quite enchanting.