Response_PLSC Seminar: Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum

by cwayman1

It was a pleasure to sit in on the Plant Sciences Seminar series on Monday afternoon, September 24, 2012. Current Exectutive Director of the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum (KGBA), Keyes Williamson, spoke briefly on both the history and future of the KGBA in his presentation, Growing Gardens, Honoring History, Cultivating Community.

Williamson, an MLA graduate from the University of Georgia, has spent his previous career working for both historical garden landmarks such as Monticello and Old Salem as well as being involved in public park planning. It was quickly evident that his passion lay in the conservation and maintenance of historically significant landscapes, and I believe that this excitement for the profession will play well into the course of the Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum.

Offering a brief view of the site’s history, the original land was give to David. W. Howell in 1786 for his service in the revolutionary war and was soon transformed into what became Knoxville’s oldest, continually operating business until 2003 when it was sold as a local landmark, the KGBA. Whew, 217 of history flies, right? Obviously, there is much more to the story than that, but please suffice it to note that what became the C.B.Howell Nursery carries a history far longer than most, if not all, in Knoxville can attest to, posing it as an obvious local landmark worthy of remembrance and respect.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the KGBA is currently in the process of revamping the remaining 44 acres of the former C.B.Howell Nursery. Based on Williamson’s ideas, they are hoping fostering a larger presence within both the city and the community. The current plan involves the re-structuring, restoration, and reprogramming of several key buildings on the site toward their use as community centers, educational facilities, and large event spaces.

Having had several opportunities to visit the site, I can attest to its beauty as well as it potential for community outreach.

After listening to Williamson’s proposal, however, I do have a number of hesitations concerning the KGBA’s actual community involvement. To speak quite frankly, the KGBA is not located in one of the more up-scale neighborhoods of Knox county. The majority of the surrounding demographic is situated somewhere within the lower income bracket of the city and the efforts that are being put forth at the KGBA do not seem to be applicable to that context. I do understand that as the KGBA seeks to present itself as a local landmark it cannot cater to all groups, but marketing its locale as a premier event space in Knoxville simply does not seem to impress the surrounding neighborhoods.

I also understand that I may be entirely off base with my analysis, and truthfully I hope that I am. The Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum has always been a beautiful spot for my family to take afternoon picnics and walks, and I do wish the finest success on one of Knoxville truly secret treasures.



cover photo sourced from Elizabeth Eason Architecture LLC: