The city might have missed out on Cheekwood in Bloom, but when the estate reopens to the public, there will be plenty of exciting new things to explore. This year marks the arrival of three new — or newly renovated — gardens and one highly anticipated exhibit.
After a year and a half of construction, this March marked the opening of the brand new Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden. Situated on two acres between the Howe Garden and the Frist Learning Center and directly across the street from the mansion, the children’s garden is a dynamic new offering for guests, both young and old alike. Thoughtfully designed to blend in with Cheekwood’s historic core and existing architecture, the garden is a celebration of nature, the arts and the act of play. Equipped with a studio pavilion, performance stage, living library, balance beam, rope bridge and turtle pond, the garden is intended to spark creativity and imagination, all while teaching kids to love, value and respect nature.
Two long-standing fixtures on the Cheekwood property — the Blevins Japanese Garden and the Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail — have recently undergone renovations. The Blevins Japanese Garden was originally constructed and designed by David Harris Engel in 1977. A 10-month restoration to the garden was recently completed to increase accessibility, renovate the pavilion and add new horticultural elements, including gingko, maple and stunted pine trees.
The Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail also underwent some significant renovations over the past 15 months. The 1.5-mile woodland path, originally constructed in 1999, is now easier to locate and traverse, thanks to updated signage, lighting and paving. The 10 original contemporary sculptures remain, but the improved trail is more accessible to all. Both the Blevins Japanese Garden and the Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail will open to the public within four weeks of when Cheekwood resumes operations.
And there’s one more exciting thing in store for visitors to Cheekwood this year: the arrival of the new Chihuly exhibit. The glass sculptor, whose 2010 exhibit at Cheekwood was a huge success, will showcase 13 outdoor installations, along with pieces on display in the mansion and museum. Originally slated to open in April, the Chihuly exhibit was postponed until July 18 and will run through January 10, 2021.
Peter Grimaldi, Cheekwood’s vice president of gardens and facilities, gave us a sneak peek at what to expect from the new gardens and exhibit.
Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden
One of the most charming aspects of the new children’s garden is the turtle pond. Part of the greater “water axis” that extends throughout the entire property, the turtle pond is surrounded by stone turtle statues that serve as fountains. Cheekwood is partnering with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to make the turtle pond a sanctuary for native turtles, who will be arriving on May 23, World Turtle Day.
The arts take center stage in the garden. A Plein Air Plaza allows kids to try their hand at visual art with a “water painting station” that features four easels with slate tablets, each with an overflowing basin of water so kids can dip brushes, sponges or their own hands into the water and “paint” an image on the tablets. At the base of the lawn, a stage serves as a celebration of the performing arts.
Readers are Leaders
A living library fosters a love and appreciation for the literary arts. The outdoor room is complete with a chimney and hearth and is flanked by stone bookcases, stocked with an assortment of beloved titles for children to peruse.
Blevins Japanese Garden
The Blevins Japanese Garden was first conceived in 1970, thanks to a generous gift from Betty Weesner, a former president of the Ikebana International Chapter 5. The groundbreaking for the garden occurred in 1977, following a tea ceremony. The garden was originally designed by David Harris Engel and was named “Shōmu-en,” which translates to “pine-mist forest.”
Peter Grimaldi says the garden underwent “the lightest touches” and was more of a restoration than a renovation. According to Peter, the chief goals were 1) “to increase accessibility, both to and through the space,” 2) “major horticultural enhancements and embellishments of the horticulture in these spaces,” and 3) “to refine the expression and the authenticity of the Japanese gardening styles.”
Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail
Into the Woods
Among the top priorities for the renovation of the sculpture trail was to retain all of the original artwork. The 1.5-mile wooded path features 10 contemporary sculptures, many of which were commissioned specifically for Cheekwood. The updated trail still winds past all 10 pieces of existing artwork and maintains the original vision for the trail, which is for the sculptures to be presented in a woodland environment.
Finding Your Way
“The number one problem with the sculpture trail is nobody could find it, and when they did, half the time, they got lost,” says Peter Grimaldi. Wayfinding was a primary goal for the renovation. Now, the trail is directly connected to the garden, with the main entrance accessed from the end of the Bradford Robertson Color Garden arches.
Chihuly at Cheekwood
“Chihuly in 2010 was, in many ways, a watershed moment for Cheekwood and Nashville's relationship with Cheekwood,” says Peter. The glass sculptor returns to the estate on July 18 with 13 outdoor installations, two of which were created specifically for this exhibit. The show will also include two indoor chandeliers, a gallery exhibit in the museum and a gift shop.
Light the Night
In addition to traditional daytime hours, Cheekwood will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays to Sundays for evening viewings of Chihuly Nights. Because of the postponement of the exhibit, it will now run alongside Holiday Lights in December.
Cheekwood’s art curators and garden team have worked closely on planning the exhibit and the best places to showcase Chihuly’s large-scale glass sculptures. Peter promises that the newly renovated sculpture trail and Japanese garden will feature Chihuly pieces. “And then, of course, we would be remiss if you didn't put a piece of Chihuly on the front lawn,” he says.