5 Star Stories: Memphis Botanic Garden celebrates 70th anniversary

Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 10:57 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In this 5 Star Story about the things that make us proud to call the Mid-South home, we celebrate an urban jungle in the heart of the Bluff City, the Memphis Botanic Garden. For 70 years now, the garden has been a perennial favorite for Memphians.

Emily Dickinson penned many a poem showcasing her love of gardening and the flowers within. She surely would have written one about the lush garden’s beauty that envelops visitors upon entry. The Botanic Garden began in 1953, when the city gave a portion of Audubon Park to garden enthusiasts.

According to Executive Director Michael Allen, “What happened is, back in those days all these different garden clubs--you had the Rose Garden Club and you had Hosta Club and you had the Iris and all the different ones--and they needed a place both to sort of meet for their membership. Over the years, with a few exceptions, most of those garden clubs have ceased to exist. And so the Botanic Garden now maintains each of those gardens.”

The Botanic Garden actually consists of 31 gardens on 96 acres just off Cherry Road in East Memphis.

“The Japanese Garden is my favorite. I find the Japanese Garden, with the lake there with the Koi fish, to be the most serene, most calming, most beautiful space that we have,” Allen explained.

And it’s been a fan favorite since 1965, with its signature red bridge a source of serenity for the hundreds of thousands of Garden visitors each year.

On a typical year, roughly 240,000 visitors arrive at the Memphis Botanic Garden; about 44,000 are school children.

“Another 30,000 are visitors to Live at the Garden, to our music series,” Allen added. “And the rest of folks who come here, generally speaking, to walk the grounds are attending one of the events.”

(WMC Action News 5)

Events like last year’s “Alice’s Adventures at the Garden,” a seasonal outdoor exhibit that featured thousands of blooms shipped to Memphis and assembled on-site using cranes. According to Olivia Wall, the Garden’s Director of Marketing, the Alice figure, “was actually composed of 7 planted pieces and she contains more than 15,000 individual plants and stands about 19 feet tall.”

She added that the Garden has dedicated full time staff that, “every single day are out here caring for these wonderful sculptures, every single day need to be watered. Some parts have to be twice a day if it’s too hot if it’s humid if it hasn’t rained in a while.”

The Red Queen and White Rabbit may be gone now, but the Garden is already gearing up for a new exhibit called “Rich Soil” that opens in May. The Live at the Garden summer concert series also returns this year, where visitors can spend an evening under the stars rocking out at the Radians Amp with a lineup that consists of both legendary and contemporary artists from the worlds of Rock, Country and R&B.

There’s also plenty of fun for the little ones at Memphis Botanic Garden starting with the My Back Yard where there’s plenty of jumping, splashing, digging, creating, daydreaming, discovering, and simply enjoying time spent outdoors. Kids might even enjoy a chance to feed the koi fish in the Japanese Garden, visit the chickens in their coop at the Urban Home Garden, or the mysteries that spring forth from the Pollinator Garden in the lowlands.

“There’s a caterpillar house there so you can see some caterpillars trying to become butterflies. There’s just lots to discover and we hope folks wanna come out and enjoy the garden,” Wall expressed about nature’s way of providing clarity, and calm in an ever-changing world.

The Memphis Botanic Garden is also looking to the future by learning from past experiences.

“The interesting by-product of the pandemic is that it has taught us to adapt in ways that I’m not sure we thought we could adapt in the past. So it’s taught us to be innovative, it’s taught us to take some chances and it’s taught us things that I think will carry over to the future,” said Allen.

So here’s to seven more decades at the Memphis Botanic Garden. Up next at the Garden is the annual Cherry Blossom Bloom. The cherry trees both inside the Garden and along Cherry Road come to life this spring with a special Cherry Blossom Picnic scheduled for March 18.

For more information on that event and all of the happenings at the Memphis Botanic Garden, click here.

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