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Home & Gardening: 10 Home Gardens that Bloomed During the Pandemic

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Kevin Wimpy's Portrait Garden

People garden for all kinds of reasons: for business, for pleasure, for therapy, for food, for entertainment. We caught up with several people who were gardening at home in 2020 — growing a collection of plants, starting a new community plot, building a little something for the bees and birds and more. Conversations were fruitful. Read them here.  

Williamson County Parks and Rec community garden brings neighbors together amid bounty of produce

For those who participate in a community garden, satisfaction can come in getting to know your neighbors, learning more about the growing process and just plain digging in the dirt.

The food’s not bad either.

“I think it promotes community because we get to see our neighbors and friends around here,” said Kim Southard, a patron of the community garden that is managed by Williamson County Parks and Recreation. “But I’m really into fresh vegetables. You can’t get any fresher than to walk outside and pick it from the ground. Fresh makes it taste so much better.”

Southard and her husband, Andy Southard, have participated in the community garden for about 3½ years. They are but a few steps from their plot in the garden, which is adjacent to their home on Everbright Avenue and across the street from the Academy Park Gymnasium in Franklin.

“People really enjoy coming out here,” Andy Southard said, “especially during this quarantine and the pandemic over the last few months. It’s a place to come during the day to get out of the house and it’s safe.”

The garden had been managed by a nonprofit until the county’s Parks and Recreation department took it over two years ago. It includes 39 plots, and tenants are growing a significant range of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.

“The majority of the people who use the garden live in the [immediate area],” said Krystal Turner, WCPR’s senior sports coordinator and overseer of the garden. “It’s a mix of people. We have several families, several individuals doing it on their own. We have some couples who are learning how to garden for the first time. We just have a wide variety of patrons who use the garden.

“The biggest thing they get out of it is to be able to have a variety of healthy vegetables that they are able to grow themselves.”

Braton and Molly Machleit are in their fourth year of tending at the community garden, going back to when it was managed by the Franklin nonprofit A Bit of Earth.

They’ve grown a variety of vegetables, and this year their summer harvest will include tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, green beans, peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. They have also grown a few fall and winter crops.

And especially rewarding for the Machleits has been the opportunity to pass down their passion for gardening to their children, 5-year-old Rivers and 3-year-old Nora.

“We’ve loved it,” Braton Machleit said while sitting in the garden’s gazebo one recent morning. “It’s been fun, especially with the kids. They like to eat the cherry tomatoes off the plants. There are a lot of good teaching moments in here. As we plant seeds or small plants, they get to watch the stuff grow. 

“But it also brings the neighbors together. It’s a really cool community that’s been created here.”

Franklin woman brings a tranquil approach to growing hostas, rohdeas


Cornelia Holland

The hum of traffic is barely noticeable in Tranquility, the name of the expansive garden that Cornelia Holland maintains at her home on Hillsboro Road near downtown Franklin.

There might be the occasional rumble of a dump truck or the piercing of something souped up, but to walk the pathway through Holland’s hostas, rohdeas and countless other plants, trees and flowers is, indeed, quite tranquil. Despite its proximity to a rather busy roadway, her garden can prompt a body to get downright contemplative. 

“You can hear the birds and forget the traffic,” Holland said one recent morning as she gave a casual tour of Tranquility to a visitor.

It’s a garden that Holland has been tending since around 1995, when she discovered that hostas would be more favorable to her backyard conditions than the roses and perennials that had once occupied the space. 

“The trees had grown to a point that I had a lot of shade,” Holland explained. “I discovered hostas, which are shade-tolerant plants. I started growing hostas primarily on the back of the house and then it just expanded to the side and the front.”

Now with about 700 varieties of hostas in her home garden, Holland has become an authority on the plant that comes in various shapes, sizes and colors. In fact, her reputation as a hosta grower led to her donation of 600 hostas from her personal garden to the University of Tennessee Gardens, Knoxville five years ago. That garden is titled Tranquility — The Cornelia B. Holland Hosta Garden.

In the fall of 2019, she gave another 100 hostas to the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum.

“I enjoy sharing the garden more with people now,” Holland said, adding that the coronavirus outbreak has lessened her organized tours this spring (though she does have a virtual tour). “I still add to the collection when I see something that’s sort of unique, mainly if I see a fragrant hosta, because that’s my favorite.”

“But my main pleasure with this garden is sharing it with people.”

Over time, Holland’s gardening quest is becoming more focused on the rodhea species of plants, which have ancient origins in China and Japan but are relatively rare in the United States. 

“It’s very slow to grow,” Holland explained. “They are evergreen plants, so when the hostas die down in the wintertime, I still have green from the rohdeas.”

Tranquility, which is laid out on a gravel path and through a canopy of tall trees, also includes other plants, flowers of varying colors and bloom schedules, various smaller trees and the usual greenery that serves to complement the garden as a whole. But most of Holland’s passion is spent on two main species, hostas and rohdeas.

“I have a lot of camellias and a lot of azaleas and a lot of this and that, but my main focus is on hostas and rohdeas.”

Nature, produce and learning opportunities attract gardeners to Stoney Creek Farms


Olin and Leigh Funderburk

Franklin resident Dan Parkey received a rather special Christmas gift from his wife a few years ago.

It wasn’t a new car, a set of golf clubs or season tickets to Titans games. It wasn’t even wrapped — how, after all, do you wrap fresh air?

Parkey was out enjoying that gift one recent morning as one of the garden tenants at Stoney Creek Farms, a sustainable farm in Franklin that emphasizes eco-friendly and all-natural practices in the production of fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. Founded in 2005 by Olin and Leigh Funderburk, Stoney Creek Farms offers you-pick-it produce, classes and seminars, and other special events. And as Parkey discovered one Christmas morning, the farm also has garden plots for rent. 

“Several years ago we moved to Berry Farms, where you don’t have to maintain your yard because it’s done for you,” Parkey explained. “My wife gave me this plot three years ago for Christmas so I could get my yard and gardening fix.

“I’ve learned a few things as I go along, and hopefully we get better each year.”

Much of that learning comes from Leigh Funderburk, who helps the tenants with all aspects of their individual garden plots while also giving them the space for self-tending so they can grow their knowledge. She oversees 20 rented garden spots of three different dimensions, and tenants vary from beginners to experienced gardeners, from retirees to young families.

The Funderburks till the soil and provide fencing for an extra fee, but tenants are responsible for purchasing their own seeds or plants for growing.

“Everything we have here we provide if they need it,” Leigh Funderburk said. “For instance, if they don’t have tomato cages or stakes and we do have some on hand, we’ll let them use them. 

“We help them with garden design, and companion planting [practices]. ... We show them which plants would work best in what area of the plot.”

The mentoring has certainly been beneficial, according to Terry Humphrey, an executive consultant who is a first-year garden tenant at Stoney Creek with her husband, Roald Humphrey. 

“We’ve always had a garden, but haven’t always had success,” she said. “It’s been hit or miss, so we finally decided we needed to find somebody who knows what they’re doing. 

“It’s just fun to come out here. In the kind of work I do, one of the things I love is getting away and being out in nature and being with other people who find that important, too.”

Such as Katie England, who recently moved to Franklin from northern Illinois with her husband, Eric, and daughters Isla and Lark. They had been members of a community garden for a number of years at their previous home, so the concept at Stoney Creek Farms fit what they were seeking.

“We’re out here about three times a week and my husband usually comes out on weekends,” England said. “It’s really nice to just get out of town and get in the dirt and get some fresh air, and to let the girls play out in nature.”

The overcast morning also brought out Mike Meulemans to tend his garden. The setup is ideal for him, and a big improvement over trying to grow much in his shady backyard.

“I just like the idea of planting, nurturing, harvesting,” Meulemans said. “This whole setup is great. You couldn’t ask for more — all the tools, the implements, the water, the advice, the knowledge. It’s pretty hard to beat it.”

Pandemic sparked a growth in interest for Thompson’s Station community garden


Thompson’s Station community garden

Shelves holding toilet paper, hand sanitizer and various meats weren’t the only ones being emptied as the coronavirus pandemic began taking hold in March of 2020.

So were those holding garden rakes, tomato stakes and potting soil.

That, at least, was the observation of one of the tenants at the Thompson’s Station community garden, where experienced gardeners have been tending plots alongside beginners since the city opened the garden about 10 years ago.  

“I believe more people are interested in having a garden this year because you go to Lowe’s or Tractor Supply, and a lot of the garden supplies are depleted,” said Steve Jones, a tenant at the garden since 2013. “A lot of the shelves are empty from the spike in interest in gardening from people this year.”

Much of the reason for that spike, of course, has been from the impact of the pandemic. Gia Card, who sits on the Thompson’s Station Parks and Recreation board and is volunteer coordinator for the community garden, said interest from newcomers to gardening increased significantly this year.

“A lot of people have come to the garden this year because of the COVID-19 crisis,” she said. “They felt they needed to do something outside, but also growing their own food, I think, gives them a sense of security, that they have a place to get fresh vegetables whenever they need them. 

“With all the shortages like toilet paper, meat and things like that, people started to get worried. I noticed a huge uptick in the number of people interested in getting plots. Not everybody followed through, but I did get a lot of emails from people who have never gardened before and who wanted to start trying to grow something.”

The Thompson’s Station community garden consists of 45 plots of differing sizes and includes an irrigation system from a creek-fed water tank owned by the city. The Parks and Recreation maintenance crew tills the land to get plots ready in the spring, so tenants can begin planting as soon as they’re ready.

“There is community support, so every gardener here is willing to help people out if they needed to,” Card said. “I’d like to put a class together for children. We could take one of the plots and actually designate as a learning plot and have regular classes for children. I believe if you start kids off with the knowledge of how to grow something, the desire to grow something, it will kind of blossom throughout their lives.”

That was the case with Dan Ferrell, who has tended a plot at the community garden for five years. He gained an appreciation for growing produce from his dad and for tending flowers from his mom. He makes sure to mix in beauty with practicality.

“I could have a small raised garden in the backyard, but I like this because I could put out as much stuff as I want to,” Ferrell said. “It’s just a way to come out here and pass the time, solve the world’s problems. I talk to my buddies on each side of me. I learn all kinds of things from them.”

Card said many of the tenants have excess produce at times, and she hopes to form partnerships with some of the nonprofits in the county for providing donations of fresh vegetables. 

She did add, however, that some of the gardeners have concerns about a few folks not of the community getting a little sticky-fingered with the veggies being grown.

“In some people’s minds, I think the idea of a community garden is that it’s open to the public to harvest whenever they want to,” Card said. “We do have that problem here with folks occasionally wandering through and picking [our tenants’] vegetables.”

Methodist church’s Giving Garden continues to evolve in serving community


Franklin First United Methodist Church's Giving Garden

It started as a pumpkin patch.

Today, more than a decade after members of Franklin First United Methodist Church planted a few seeds on property the church had purchased to accommodate a growing congregation, what is known as the Giving Garden has become one of the church’s most visible ministries.

In terms of numbers, the 5-acre garden on the church campus has partnerships with 17 different nonprofits and organizations and each year distributes around 40,000 pounds of fresh produce to people in need.

But its value to the community goes beyond the numbers, according to Vona Wilson, senior associate pastor for Franklin First UMC. Its purpose is evolving as needs in Williamson County grow, both through the underlying poverty that’s here despite the county’s wealth and now the impact from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think the garden is important for several reasons, and it has changed for me over time,” Wilson said, taking a break from pulling weeds in a flower bed. “When this started we were all very excited about it. The volunteers were passionate about growing the food and giving it away, and I was as well, and thought it was really important.

“But I always felt like that there would come a time when there would be a great need in this community, more so than what we were aware of at the time,” she added. “Some of the issues that we are still facing and, with the pandemic, those that are ahead of us — with the huge impact to our economy, people that were struggling before will be struggling much more in the future — and I feel like, honestly, the garden is coming into a new place. I think it’s here to serve the community in whatever way that means, and I think that means it might change over time.”

Not long after Franklin First UMC purchased 107 acres of land near the intersection of Mack Hatcher Parkway and Franklin Road in 2007, eight years before the church building was completed, longtime member Michael Jones (since deceased) thought it would be nice to let some of the children scatter a few pumpkin seeds and watch their progress to harvest time. 

That gesture set in motion the idea to grow a full-fledged garden, and by 2010 the Giving Garden was giving a good bit of fresh produce to a variety of nonprofits that serve the needy in Williamson County.

“This is the place where God has given this church the opportunity to connect with all the people in the community, every group,” Wilson said. “We dreamed of it before. We wanted a multicultural connection and relationship. You have to build that on a common ground — food is the equalizer.”

Some of the agencies benefiting from the church’s garden are One Generation Away, GraceWorks and Daughters of the King, to name a few.

As it has since the beginning, the Giving Garden relies heavily on volunteers. Some of them are members of the church, others from elsewhere in the community. Until the pandemic’s intrusion, garden organizers could count on groups from some of the agencies that are recipients of the produce. They also looked to youth groups from across the country, but youth mission trips have for the most part ceased this summer.

The garden has been blessed, however, with service from a number of master gardeners, those who have been through the Tennessee Extension Master Gardener course and 40 hours of volunteering to become certified. 

“We could not manage this year without master gardeners because we’ve had to cut back,” said Barbara Bowden, one of the garden coordinators. “It has been a blessing to have them here. We typically have youth groups throughout the summer, which is a big part of our workload, and we’re not able to have them this year.”

Phillip Francis, a master gardener and longtime volunteer who is at the Giving Garden practically every day, said his experience there is just what he was seeking post-retirement.

“After I retired I wanted three things,” he said. “I wanted to have fun, learn some new things, and I wanted to contribute to the community. I get all three of those here.”

Franklin gardener finds both pleasure and practicality in tending his parterre


Jim Brackett's parterre garden

In the garden he began growing well more than a decade ago, Jim Brackett has planted beans, peas, tomatoes, lettuce, corn, squash, okra, onions and just about any other vegetable found in gardens across Williamson County.

But that’s where any similarities to those other gardens end. Brackett, who moved into his Franklin home with his family about 15 years ago, has created something in his backyard more akin to the Palace of Versailles than to a plot in Peytonsville.

“This lot was perfect for what we wanted to do,” Brackett said as he stood in his parterre garden surrounded by finely shaped boxwoods, an assortment of flowering plants and vines, a grass-level pool, and plenty of fresh edibles. 

“Mine is Versailles on a budget. I’ve done all this stuff myself, and that’s probably not a lot of peoples’ cup of tea. But I enjoy doing it and I’m still young enough to do the labor.”

It has indeed been labor-intensive, Brackett said. He has had guidance from landscapers, plant experts and an architect, but he has handled the nuts and bolts himself along with help from his wife, Jan, and sons Drew and Charlie.

“It has all taken many, many years because it’s a heck of a lot of landscaping and we just couldn’t spend $100,000 on all this stuff all at once,” said Brackett, who owns his own software company that remotely monitors for toilet leaks in large hotels and assisted living facilities. “So it’s all taken a long time to come together. After you realize you can’t do it all at once, it’s kind of a pleasure to add the pieces. It could be this fall or maybe next spring, and I’ll be completely done. It will have taken 14 or 15 years.”

Brackett said the influence for his garden — and, for that matter, his house — actually originated from a visit he and Jan made to a village in France named Chenonceaux not long after they had married. Each had traveled to the country before with friends and had stuck mainly in Paris and done “all the touristy stuff,” Brackett said.

“This time we wanted to go out more [from the crowds of tourists] and take day trips,” he added. “We ended up in this super-quaint village, and it was perfect weather and like one of those dream days. We found this house we loved that had this really neat garden, and it stuck with us.

“We found the house we wanted to build and raise our kids in.”

The Bracketts hired Nashville architect Mitch Barnett to design their home, one that would feature elements to make it livable for the 21st century while paying homage to its 16th century style. The garden followed in that vein.

While the concept of his parterre owes to history, some of his individual plants also hold stories from the past. One in particular is a night-blooming cereus that dates to the 1800s. Brackett said his housekeeper gave him a cutting from the plant that has ties to Adelicia Acklen of Belmont Mansion in Nashville. Acklen had entered her night-blooming cereus in a show in 1876, and around 10 years later the great-grandmother of Brackett’s housekeeper got a cutting from the plant. 

“Our housekeeper’s mother still has the original plant bought in the 1880s,” Brackett explained. “It’s a large shrub. It’s pretty neat to have a cutting from a plant that is that old.”

Brackett shared several other stories about the plants and flowers and the general grounds of his garden. It’s easy to understand his passion.

“I’ve been interested in gardening going back to high school [in Harrison County, Ky.],” Brackett said. “I always liked working outside. In high school I started planting roses and I planted a shade garden in our backyard in Kentucky. That’s where it started.”

From digging in dirt to soldering iron, one man enjoys his garden therapy


Clark Taplin

As someone who has been gardening for most of his 63 years,  can attest to its benefits.

“It’s a known fact that when you dig in the soil, especially with your bare hands, it has a calming effect,” Taplin said. “I purposely don’t wear gloves because your body absorbs so many minerals through your hands digging in the dirt. It’s better than Prozac.”

Most gardeners would likely agree with Taplin’s testament to the healing powers of growing produce, herbs and flowers. Most, however, wouldn’t necessarily prescribe to the therapy of his other backyard pastime. 

“There’s nothing like hammering on an anvil,” Taplin said, overlooking the very visual contrast in his backyard between his well-manicured and lush garden and his blacksmith shop overflowing with all sorts of metals, wires and other parts not of the natural world. “It’s hotter than blazes, but I enjoy it.”

Taplin’s reputation as something of a Renaissance man doesn’t end with his roles as a gardener and a blacksmith. He’s also a beekeeper, and occasionally gets calls to remove bees from homes and other structures. At his height in the hobby, Taplin was collecting and selling thousands of pounds of honey each year. It’s now more like 150 pounds, but he still sees a steady demand for his honey.

What’s more, Taplin’s primary source of income over most of his career has been in stone masonry.

“When it comes to masonry,” he explained, “what I try to do more and more of is repair work. There’s a good living to be made in simple two- or three-hour repairs versus a project you do for two or three days.

“I’ve worked for myself most of the time. There were maybe four years where I worked for someone else. I’d punch a boss before I’d punch a clock.”

Taplin has made quite the vocation out of his blacksmithing as well. He is often sculpting and selling some of his creations such as garden bells and fire pits shaped like minions and VW buses. Taplin even has a steady demand for blacksmithing equipment he makes, from forges to hydraulic presses.

As for his gardening passion, that dates back to his childhood. Taplin began tending his own garden at the age of 7, and he would load up his wagon with fresh produce and sell to neighbors.

Nowadays, Taplin and his wife of 45 years, Janie, work together to make their garden a source of conversation when friends and family visit. Clark typically tends the vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and kale, while Janie oversees the flowers and herbs such as mint, basil and parsley. The garden is also adorned with sculptures and other decorative items Clark has forged or created. 

“We want it to be enjoyable,” Taplin said as he led a visitor through the garden. “I’ve always thought that when you walk in a garden, you shouldn’t look at all the things you need to do, but just be reminded of the beauty of it.”

Portrait photographers’ ‘secret garden’ a place for pleasure and for business

With things having slowed down a bit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Kevin and Suzette Wimpy are able to enjoy their backyard garden a little more.

At the same time, however, their backyard garden happens to be where they make their living as owners of Kevin Wimpy Portraits, a Franklin photography business they opened 20 years ago. While they’ve welcomed the opportunity to reap the personal satisfaction of their “secret garden,” they also look forward to a soon return in playing a bigger role as a revenue producer.

“It’s been kind of nice because it’s given us more time to spend in the garden, with the work being a little slower,” Kevin said. “There have been some projects I’ve been able to get to that I would not have been able to do without the slowdown. The garden is probably better organized than ever.

“But while it’s fun with it being a secret garden, it’s better if people know about it. It’s nice to do a little business, too.”

The Wimpys have been doing business in the studio and garden behind their Hillsboro Road house since just after the 2010 flood. They started their business in Brentwood, and later had a studio at the Factory at Franklin.

The previous owner of their current house was also a photographer and had started the garden, and Kevin and Suzette have expanded it and added various features over the past decade.

“We’ve added over half of what’s here,” Suzette said.

The garden — which is shrouded beneath large shade trees and features a variety of plants and flowers as well as decorative amenities such as a pond, a waterfall and a pathway, among several others — serves as the ideal setting for making portraits of families, kids and pets. While they still go on location and even travel to other states for some of their photography jobs, the Wimpys find they do their best work at home.

“Most [photographers] have to shoot in public places,” Suzette explained. “Well, we wanted a private place where there weren’t interruptions — kids get distracted very easily, pets get distracted. So we wanted to control the environment to make sure that didn’t happen. We had been looking for a place where that didn’t happen and this became available.”

Though the pandemic has led to fewer portraits this summer, Kevin said he and Suzette take all the safety precautions and follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines during their photo shoots.

“The good thing is, especially being outside, we shoot 20 or 30 feet away from [the subject],” he said. “So we can interact and photograph them from a distance. It’s pretty safe. We can wear a mask if they want us to. We have hand sanitizer and all that.”

During these hot summer days, it’s easy to understand what makes the Wimpys’ garden so attractive. Whether it’s for a photo session or just a leisurely stroll through the flora, fauna and architecture, it is nature’s air conditioner.  

“I love gardening, and being out here in the shade makes it better,” Kevin said. “I haven’t put a thermometer out here, but it’s considerably cooler.”

Three Williamson County gardeners are nourished daily by the beauty, benefits of flowers


Melissa Beasley, Michelle Keith and Leila Sanders

Backyard flower gardeners across the county have gone above and beyond to keep their gardens colorful in spring, summer and fall over the past year. Afterall, it’s nice to have new things to look at when you’re home a lot.

 Three Franklin gardeners who put a significant amount of time and toil into their flowers, their plants — and their sanctuaries.

Melissa Beasley: ‘It just feels so good to have your hands in the dirt’

Once her children were old enough to no longer need the backyard for entertainment, Melissa Beasley was able to pursue her dream.

That is, she began growing a garden.

“When the kids were small, we had a playset for them in our backyard,” Beasley said of her now 17-year-old twins and 13-year-old daughter. 

“But when they got to a certain age,” she added with a grin, “I kicked them out and said, this is all mine now.”

It has taken a number of years, but Beasley is now realizing the passion she has had for cultivating for most of her adult life. She has worked meticulously to tend to her flowers, plants and produce, digging not only in the dirt but also through research and knowledge passed down from her ancestors. 

“This has evolved over several years,” Beasley said. “I just enjoy being out here and seeing nature and how everything works together. 

“Gardening is a hobby but it’s also so great for relaxation. As my kids got older and I’ve had more time to invest in it, it’s great for me to be able to come out and do this. It just feels so good to have your hands in the dirt. There’s something about it that makes it absolutely therapeutic. Especially with everything going on the last few months [from the coronavirus], it’s just a haven, a place to get away and tune everything out.”

Beasley said that while she enjoys the fruits of her labor — whether it’s the bursting colors from her petunias or false indigo or the rewarding delicacies of her fresh tomatoes or cucumbers — she also takes pleasure in creating a space for the bees and birds and butterflies. 

And yes, she enjoys the challenges of gardening, its trial-and-error aspect.

“Sometimes things turn out and sometimes it doesn’t work,” she said. “But when I find myself getting too stressed about something not working, I just remind myself that this is all supposed to work that way. Those are great lessons to learn.”

Michelle Keith: ‘It’s a constant process, but it’s worth it’

When it comes to her approach toward gardening, Michelle Keith has a vision that isn’t necessarily focused on the beauty of flowers.

Sure, she enjoys looking out her kitchen window and seeing the yellows and purples and reds of what she has created over the past five years or so. It was a priority of hers when she first set out to turn part of her backyard into an oasis of colors.

But over time, her sense of satisfaction has shifted from her eyes to her heart, so to speak.  

“It’s give and take,” Keith said. “My purpose before was to have beautiful flowers, and that’s great if that’s what you want. But I thought that is not going to be my purpose going forward. 

“It’s not a garden that people would drive by and see how beautiful it is. It’s more of a purposeful garden. The whole purpose of it is for the bees, the butterflies and the birds.”

Keith changed her outlook after the golden retriever she and her family owned was diagnosed with lymphoma, an illness she discovered can be caused by a chemical she and her husband, Mike, had been using to treat their lawn. Their dog, Mac, lived another three years but had to have extensive chemo treatment for six months.

The Keiths stopped using the spray on the yard, and it later was filled with clover. However, Michelle noticed there were no bees attracted to the clover, and “that’s when I really started getting into pollinating gardens.

“It’s a lot of work because you have to hand-pull a lot of weeds out of the bed. It’s a constant process, but it’s worth it.”

Keith’s flowerbeds include verbena, dahlias, black-eyed Susans, salvia, coneflowers, clematis, morning glory, marigolds and lavender, among others. She also has a rose bush that came from one her grandmother has grown. It’s spindly looking now, and that’s because Keith has let it go natural. 

“I don’t spray it so it only blooms around Mother’s Day,” she said. “If I sprayed and treated it, it would be beautiful all summer long. But that’s OK.”

Beauty, after all, is only stem deep when it comes to flowers.

Leila Sanders: ‘I plant my yards like I’m going to be here forever’

Where ever Leila Sanders goes, her daylilies go with her.

It’s been that way since 1997, when Sanders started moving to new locations on the average of every four years. She had first bought daylilies in 1987, when she was living in Mississippi and was given $100 as a birthday present from her parents. She bought them from a photographer in her town who was also an avid day-lily gardener.

“The original daylilies I bought are still with me so they’re about 33 years old,” Sanders said from her Franklin house, her third since moving here seven years ago. “They’ve been divided and moved and left at the old houses, but some come with me with each move.”

Daylilies are just a part of the flowers and plants Sanders has growing along her front porch and especially in her backyard. When she moved to her current home in the Stream Valley neighborhood a couple of years ago, her yard was mostly barren on the surface with huge rocks beneath it. 

“I started with an empty yard, and had two dump truck loads of dirt brought in,” she said.

Sanders planted her garden toward the edge of her yard so she could see it from her kitchen window. She gazes on a variety of flowers and plants, including a number of perennials.

“You know what is said of perennials — the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap,” Sanders said. “I’m in the second year, not quite to the leaping stage.”

Sanders is not only a backyard gardener, but she is also an advocate of sorts for the hobby. She’s a member of the Middle Tennessee Plant Swap, where she finds many of her plants, and she would like to see gardening carried to future generations.

“We need to inspire young people to garden,” she said. “This would be a good time, because they have more time at home.”

For 30 years now, Riverbend Nurseries has been ‘blessed’ with loyal customers


Lynn Smith

Since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Williamson County last year and all of elsewhere, people have made adjustments in whatever ways they could.

Many have discovered their inner green thumbs. 

Over the course of late spring and throughout the summer, folks suddenly became landscapers and horticulturists and master gardeners — all to the delight of Lynn Smith, retail manager for Riverbend Nurseries in Thompson’s Station.

“We’ve been growing by leaps and bounds,” she said. “We have been blessed — not lucky, but blessed. When people couldn’t go on vacation and they had to stay at home, they found all the projects they had wanted to do, something they may have hired a landscaper to do before and they did it themselves. So we’ve been blessed. We have not slowed down at all.”

It’s actually been that way since 1990, when Steve Bennett founded Riverbend Nurseries on 80 acres of land off Lewisburg Pike. A veteran of the nursery and landscape industry who grew up on a farm in McMinnville, Smith started his business growing approximately 50 varieties of trees and employing five people. It has since grown to over 500 acres with some 1,500 varieties of plants and nearly 50 employees.

Riverbend Nurseries celebrated its 30th anniversary in July of 2020, as some of its loyal customers sent well-wishes and took advantage of big sales.

“We are a locally owned business, and our owner is on the property just about every day,” Smith said in explaining the reason for the nursery’s success. “Quality is something that [Bennett] strives for. He treats all of his customers with respect, and he expects us to treat his customers like that too.”

Smith has overseen the retail division of Riverbend for more than five years, and before that she had been among the nursery’s loyal customers. She and her staff pay careful attention to their customers’ wants and needs, serving as matchmakers of sorts to ensure the homeowner finds just the right plant, shrub or tree for their yard.

“People are really taking time to look and see what their choices are,” Smith said. “And we try really hard to put the right plant in the right spot.”

In addition to shrubs and trees, Riverbend Nurseries carries annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs and houseplants. It is also well-stocked with tools, chemicals, pottery, indoor and outdoor decorative items, bagged and bulk mulches, and soil amendments.

And it’s an ideal place to get away from the stress of the pandemic or other concerns. Smith, for one, can speak to the healing nature of being outside gardening or landscaping. 

“It is therapeutic,” she said. “Anytime when you stay inside and just watch TV, there is so much negative stuff. And when you go outside you get fresh air and sunshine and get a little sweat going on. I think it cleanses your body and it clears your mind, and it kind of makes your worries go away, digging in that dirt. I think it’s very good for your health.”