Cheekwood Gardens and The Great Smoky Mountains

So...I haven't kept up with this blog as planned. But part of the reason is that we (my significant other and I) were on vacation for over a week, which involved lots of planning the week before and the requisite decompression thereafter. We drove from Kansas City to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and back, with stops in St. Louis, Nashville, Memphis, and The Ozarks along the way. It was a great trip filled with the requisite tourist stops and some beautiful natural scenery. I definitely came away with a fondness for Tennessee as a state, at least in terms of aesthetic appeal.

While in Nashville, we spent a couple of hours at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art, formerly the residence of the wealthy Cheek family, who made their fortune off Maxwell House coffee. It's quite large, with different themed gardens throughout the space, including a color garden and Japanese style garden. My favorite of the gardens we walked through was probably the color garden near the main entrance. The space was full of striking combinations that took full advantage of the dry, full-sun location:

Color Garden 2

What I like about the above photo is the combination of the cool dusty miller and perennial salvia with the deep, bright reds. There were also complimentary combos of bright lime green with a wine red, in addition to contrasting textures. It was a great example of contemporary styles of garden design that place emphasis on large naturalistic swaths of color and texture. I don't have the space for these kinds of mass plantings, but it was definitely inspiring.

Right now, Cheekwood having an exhibition of glass works by Chihuly throughout the gardens and inside the museum. As an artist, I'm not a big fan of Chihuly. Once you've seen a couple of his pieces, you pretty much get the idea. There's also controversy surrounding the fact that he doesn't blow his own glass or build the larger structures most are familiar with. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see how the vegetal/floral glass sculptures were integrating into the garden, contrasting or complimenting the shapes and colors. Some of the most interesting pieces were the floating "globe onions" in the reflecting pools near the Japanese gardens:

Globe Onion 1

The Great Smoky Mountains were a rather different experience, a mostly untouched natural world instead of the cultivated world of Cheekwood. Parts of the park contain old growth forest, a rarity in much of the United States (if the world). The variety of plant life we saw throughout would definitely inspire any observant gardener. Despite it being the last yawn of summer, we saw plenty of wildflowers, many of which are familiar in gardens. For instance, there were quite a few cardinal flowers growing wherever they could find a scrap of sunlight:

Cardinal Flower

I was especially excited by the Joe Pye Weed in its natural setting:

Joe Pye Weed

I've loved these flowers for a long time and have more recently considered planting some in a spot of the yard prone to flooding. I'm not sure which species these were, but they were quite numerous along the banks of Noland Creek. If you look carefully in the background, you can see the rhododendron bushes that were incredibly common throughout the park. I can only imagine how gorgeous the forest is when these things are in full bloom. The tropical-looking leathery leaves add plenty of interest on their own. They'd make a wonderful addition to a shade of forest garden.

Of course, that's just a portion of how we spent our vacation. I might post some of the photos I took during our visit to Mark Twain National Forest once I have them uploaded. Now that we're back in town and summer has settled down, there will be more posts, I promise. Hope everyone reading had a great and relaxing season!