Secret Garden: Part 1

A sign on one edge of the property advertises a family business planted in 1786.  Unruly piles of native stone spill over sections of untamed ground.  Something that appears to be a small communications tower looks oddly out of place.  Old cottages and decades old greenhouse structures stand mysteriously atop a hill.  If you aren't from around here, chances are you'd never find this secret garden, amidst a modest neighborhood on the east edge of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Look closer, and you'll see what horticulture experts, historic preservationists and some of the city's elite have known for years.  The bones of an exquisite botanical garden were here all along.  Acre after acre of hand-laid stonework draws the eye along the gently rolling hills, with a view of the distant Smoky Mountains from beneath century-old trees.  In the past decade, 44 acres once belonging to the Howell family of gardeners has been arranged into public space by a nonprofit group.  The group has cleared weeds and held fundraising galas, invited schoolchildren and honored elite donors. 

I had the honor of sitting down with Senior Gardener Mathew McMillian at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum, who patiently explained to me why this site is unique.  McMillian told me about the two brothers who both loved to garden here.  CB Howell, who grew his business into one of the largest wholesale plant nurseries in the Southeast.  Joe Howell, the eccentric who hired workers to stack stone into intricate architectural garden designs.  Joe's little round garden sheds and impressive stone greenhouses are some of the most photographed parts of the garden.  They've been backdrops for dozens of elegant gatherings like weddings.

Secret Garden:  Part 2

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