By Daniel Grose
Director of Horticulture, Memphis Botanic Garden
I know we live in a fast-paced world, a social media video has about seven seconds to grab me or I'm scrolling on, but bear with me if you will, close your eyes if possible, and take a minute to imagine yourself in a meadow. What can you hear? Birds singing, frogs croaking, crickets chirping, the rustling of leaves and grasses? What do you see? Purple coneflower patches with bees hopping from one plant to the next, a swallowtail butterfly hovering above finding the perfect plant on which to lay its eggs, grass swaying gently in the breeze? What else comes to mind? The feel of sunshine at your back, a gentle caress of wind easing that summer heat, or the unique scent of nature after a rain. In places like this, your senses are more alert, heightened, and yet, calmer all at the same time. It is a place full of life, color, imagination, and beauty.
Like many of you, these past few years since the pandemic, my wife and I have sought places where our boys could be outside in a safe space, experience nature, and feel free! We go blueberry picking in Nesbit, peach picking in Millington, hiking in Shelby Forest, and more. In early 2022 our team at the Memphis Botanic Garden started imagining how we could provide a space like this on our grounds, a space where guests and families could go in the middle of the city, on a busy day, and connect with nature.
Many cities have spaces like these; places such as Lurie Garden in Chicago or The High Line in New York come to mind. We have high expectations of our new arboretum space! Not only do we want it to be absolutely beautiful, but we also want it to be a testament to ecologically minded and sustainable landscaping practices, and be a cornerstone for nature education for the 40,000 plus children who come on field trips to our grounds each year.
This new area is a revitalization of one of our oldest gardens, the Original Arboretum. It is located on the southwest corner of the property closest to Park and Cherry right next to our Urban Home Garden. We have recently doubled our vegetable growing space and added several dozen fruiting trees and shrubs - all to be organically grown and managed. Guests will actually be able to come in season and pick strawberries, blueberries, figs, apples, pears, blackberries, etc. from our Orchard space.
In an effort to paint the broader picture of what we imagine this space will be, let's take a walk through the garden as it will be! First, you’ll enter our new outdoor kitchen space into the Urban Home Garden. We recently doubled our vegetable growing space, and you'll be able to see, touch, and taste what is in season. There will be a variety of organic growing methods for you to check out from patio planters, raised beds, row cropping, intercropping, and more. All the food is organically grown, suited to the Mid-South; things that you could grow in your own backyard. I recommend taking a cherry tomato off a vine and tasting it. If you have not had a fresh cherry tomato from the vine, let me tell you, it is an explosion of flavor that store-bought tomatoes can not touch! Be careful or you'll get hooked!
As you walk on through into the Orchard area, you may notice that blueberries are now in season - if you liked the cherry tomato, then you will love the blueberries, so pick a couple of handfuls for later! Then saunter along through the mown orchard paths towards the arboretum area; as you do the ambiance of nature
will grow and settle in. A part of this undoubtedly comes from the sounds of bees busy in their hives down near the fenceline and the chickens squawking about in the coop just yards away. You may also catch the sweet scent of our Urban Home Garden Curator Owen Smith’s nearly finished compost, and it no longer feels like you're only half a mile from Southern Ave.
Continuing down the path east, the first meadow you walk upon is our Monarch Meadow. Monarchs are an endangered species now, and this meadow has several hundred milkweed species (the host plant of the monarch caterpillar) and hundreds of lateseason nectar plants to fuel their migration south. During the summer, the meadow will be exploding with purples, yellows, pinks, and oranges. Pause here for a minute and look. How many caterpillars can you find? Do you see the holes in all those milkweed plants, evidence that monarch babies are eating, living, and thriving in this meadow? Hopefully, you'll see a monarch, or several monarchs fluttering about.
When you continue along the loop you'll pass our nature play area and outdoor classrooms, and as you round the curve you’ll see a bench in front of a beautiful southern magnolia. Have a seat in the shade of the tree, and you’ll have an open view of the Pecan Grove Meadow to the north, and our Goldfinch Meadow to the east. Now is the moment to take out those blueberries, and just watch to see what comes to life around you. The chickens from the Urban Home Garden, children playing in the nature play space on the other side of the arboretum, a view of four different meadow areas, the birds, butterflies, bees, squirrels, and other life that will reveal itself to you as you have a moment to rest and take it all in.
In my life, these moments in nature have been indescribably meaningful for me and my family. We believe this space will be a very special spot in the heart of the city for Memphians to enjoy! Over the spring and summer of 2023, we will be adding nearly 10,000 grasses, thousands of wildflowers, and over 60 native trees to this space. It will be one of the most uniquely rich and diverse landscapes in the city, and we can't wait to see you there!
You can support this effort by helping us plant 50+ new trees and place eight benches in this wonderful greenspace through a donation. Your name will appear on an engraved plaque as the donor in this oasis in the heart of the city. Learn more about establishing your roots at the Garden at membg.org/rooted-pledge-form.
Cultivating Natural Connections at the Memphis Botanic Garden