By Lynn J. Richardson
Gardening in Jonesborough is much like many other things in Tennessee’s oldest town — it has become an art form to be celebrated and shared with others.
Such is the annual Jonesborough Garden Gala, an event that draws hundreds of gardening enthusiasts from throughout the region.
The event, entitled “Through the Garden Gate,” was the 21st for Jonesborough. This year it was sponsored by the Tuesday Garden Club and the Schubert Club.
The charming historic community was in full bloom on Saturday, fragrant with flowers and bustling with garden lovers from throughout the region.The event also featured a Garden Marketplace, where plants, containers and garden accessories were available for purchase.
Hundreds of gardening enthusiasts sniffed, touched and photographed their way through 16 sites including 11 lush private gardens and five public locations.
Many of the gardens were tucked away and hidden behind handsome historic homes; others were in full view as shuttle buses pulled up at location after location to deposit groups of eager visitors.
Gardens ranged from formal landscapes featuring mostly flowers to quaint mixes of raised vegetable beds, water features and perennial plantings.
At the home of Don and Deb Burger, guests entered the garden via a rustic upcycled entryway. A working potter was at his wheel and and quiet melodies from a guitarist floated across the garden. The Burgers’ relatively small backyard has been transformed into a garden containing an amazing amount of flowers, fruit trees and vegetable beds.
The tone set, Deb Burger was on hand to demonstrate “French Double Digging,” a method of preparing the garden beds developed in the late 1880s for the Paris Market gardens. Only hand tools are used in the Burger gardens.
“It’s a way to grow things intensively,” Deb said. “It allows three times the food in the same space,” she added. “You feed the soil and the soil feeds you.”
“You do all the front end work, getting the soil ready,” she said as she repeatedly thrust her pitchfork deep into the soil and turned it.
Motioning to some enormous cabbage plants as examples, she explained that French double digging results in very little need for weeding and great results.
“The key,” she explained, “is that the soil is never compacted. My kids grew up knowing two things: you do not lie to Mama, and you do not set foot in a prepared garden bed.”
Nearby neighbors, Johnathan Adams and Sherrell Lyons, have approached gardening in an entirely different way. Their half-acre, filled with neatly arranged raised garden beds, is most memorable for it’s “caretakers” — a flock of chickens who reside in a charming coop.
Adams admitted he had worked “two months straight,” preparing for the Gala, and his hard work paid off, as guests were complimentary of the garden and its many unique features.
Many might have been surprised to hear that gardening wasn’t always a passion for him.
“When we got this place, is just really needed to be cleaned up,” Adams said. “If it grew up out of the ground, the former owners allowed it to live.”
Adams and Lyons set about taking out massive privet hedges that were “as big as cars,” old apple and black walnut trees and other intrusive plants that were overtaking their yard.
“That’s when I fell in love with gardening,” Adams said. “During the clean-up process.”
Now the garden is filled with beds of flowers, well-maintained trees and charming garden structures including a chicken coop and a greenhouse constructed from recycled scrap materials.
Just down the street, Garden Gala chairman, Marilyn Buchanan, and her husband, Curtis, invited visitors into their garden, much of which is on a sloping hillside. Guests could walk on a shady pathway alongside terraced gardens of flowers and vegetables grown in raised beds, finally arriving in Curtis’ chair-making workshop, where he was putting the final touches on one of his heirloom-quality creations.
At the top of the garden, Marilyn pointed out a patio mosaic which she designed and helped create, along with Elizabeth Huff, Marianne Huff and Beverly Jenkins. The artwork represents the four seasons of Jonesborough, she explained, pointing out the symbols for the Washington County Courthouse clock tower, the water park, a summer watermelon, the autumn Swapping Grounds and more.
The art was best viewed from the deck above – decorated with beautiful container plantings and offering panoramic views of the town of Jonesborough.
Along the way, many other charming gardens were waiting to be discovered. Sue Henley greeted guests as they wandered through her “Artistic Alley Garden” filled with flowers, plants and treasures; Marcy Hawley chatted with visitors about her charming “fairy garden” made from found objects and invited them into the Hawley House Butterfly Cottage, a guest house on the property built for her father.
Next door, flowering trees, a unique water feature and an herb garden served as the focal points at the home of Joe and Kaye Florence. In a yard that offers beautiful views, guests enjoyed a lush sanctuary that invites birds, insects and friends.
Other homes on the tour included the Haynes home, hosted by Dominick Haynes, a young vegetable gardener who started gardening at the age of seven; the home of Suzanne Kuehn, whose garden, featuring hydrangeas, flowering bushes, iris and astilbe, is a terraced work in progress, with sturdy wooden steps inlaid with bricks she has created; and finally a tiny gem, the garden of Deb Lynch, a nurse who has spent 20 years reinventing her yard into a beautiful oasis with a turtleback footbridge over a creek, a mulberry tree hanging full with fruit and numerous varieties of colorful flowers cascading along the pathways.
In a very different setting, visitors could spend quite a bit of time wandering throughout the hedge-lined brick paths of the rambling English-style garden at the home of the Thatcher family. Garden host, Scottish-born Helen Thatcher, greeted her guests as they enjoyed the spectacular perennials, shrubs and trees, and visited the small pet cemetery at the back of the property. Fairy “sanctuaries” were in abundance.
At the center of the tour, guests could not only enjoy a lovely one-acre garden filled with vegetables, herbs and perennials, but they could also find both a Secret Garden and a Fairy Garden at the home of Bill and Virginia Kennedy. A rock garden and a bog planter were special features in the garden.
The Kennedys also hosted the Gala’s afternoon tea. Harpist Martha Painter provided soft music adding to the enjoyment of a truly southern affair complete with lemonade, and sweet and savory treats served in the garden.
Garden Tour set for this weekend in Johnson City
Shady Oaks Garden Club will host a tour of seven “Special Gardens of Johnson City” on Saturday, June 10, from 11 am to 3 pm. It is a self-guided driving tour in northeast Johnson City, with directions printed on the ticket. At one of the gardens the club holds its biennial plant sale of perennials and shrubs from members’ own gardens. Another garden hosts refreshments for touring visitors.
The Garden Tour, which takes place every other year, is Shady Oaks’s only fundraiser. Tickets are still $10. Proceeds are used to fund the club’s biennial Flower Show, which is free and open to the public. Other recipients are community organizations like Ardinna Woods Arboretum of native plants in Jonesborough, the Johnson City Public Library’s pollinator garden, and other beautification and garden projects at Rocky Mount, the Salvation Army, The River, and Girls Inc. Shady Oaks is a member of the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs and routinely earns the “Club of Excellence” designation.
Tickets can be bought from any club member and will also be available on the day of the tour at the Arbogast Garden (1316 Woodland Ave.) and the Browder Garden (116 Ridgemont Rd.). For more information, visit www.shadyoaksgardenclub.org. Shady Oaks welcomes new members. If you are interested, please call Nancy Fischman at (423) 926-9744.