Secret Garden Tour Celebrates Local Gardeners

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Photo by Erin Kosko

On June 8 and June 9, 2024, local gardeners in Murfreesboro will open their gardens to the local community as part of the 32nd annual fundraiser for Discovery Center at Murfree Springs. 

The original Secret Garden Tour was one of several fundraising activities that Discovery Center, then Discovery House, tried to aid in raising funds for their expansion. While other fundraising events they experimented with disappeared, this one has withstood the passage of time. 

“Volunteers Debbye Daniels and Nila Gail Hunton were instrumental in bringing the concept of a garden tour to fruition,” said Lindsay Jennings, Vice President of Philanthropy, Discovery Center at Murfree Spring. “As one of the fastest growing hobbies around, the popularity of the Secret Garden Tour has grown leaps and bounds. It is one of the longest running events in Rutherford County.” 

Over the years, there have been around 130 gardens of every size and style that have been featured on the tour. 

“The gardens…have changed,” said Jennings. “For many years, the gardens were designed by professional landscapers and were stunning, but feedback from our guests nowadays is that they prefer the gardens of home gardeners. Guests love to take home advice and ideas that they can incorporate into their own gardens. Many of our featured gardeners, and all of our Secret Garden Tour volunteers, are members of the Rutherford County Master Gardeners, so they are passionate about sharing their knowledge and helping others in their gardening endeavors.” 

As the biggest fundraiser of the year for Discovery Center, all proceeds from the Secret Garden Party and Secret Garden Tour allow the children’s museum to continue to improve and expand its exhibits, programs, and outreach.

“Our attendees are supporting essential adventures for every child’s journey,” said Tara MacDougall, President and CEO, Discovery Center at Murfree Spring. “As Rutherford County, and its surrounding areas, grow, so is attendance at our regional children’s museum. In 2023, we had over 130,000 guests visit Discovery Center!” 

Kicking off the tour is the Secret Garden Party. This year the party will take place on Friday, June 7 at the Bear Branch Cove home of Kathy and Bud Horsely.

“Guests will be greeted with an Aperol spritz or glass of prosecco as they’re transported to an evening of Italian coastal cuisine from Five Senses Catering, and a live auction featuring luxury items and travel,” explained Jennings. 

Participating Gardeners

Three of the gardeners participating in the event are Karen Havill Bingham, Sherry Mosier, and Bonnie and Dwayne Wilkinson.

Karen Bingham’s garden is a tribute to her father, Nelson Havill, the person who inspired the passion she took up in 2006, after a divorce. Upon her father’s death, Bingham and her brother dug up many of the plants from his garden and moved them to their own. Her father’s plantings are the heart of her current garden. Daylilies were his greatest passion.

“I never had an interest as a child,” said Bingham. “I took it up later in life.” 

When she first moved into her current home, there were lots of easy-care bushes, a large fire pit surrounded by lava rock, and an infinity of open grass. Now, the space is filled with curved beds lushly filled with mostly perennial plantings. She cleaned out the lava rock, built a large wood deck under the trees, and added lots of metal art and sculpture on the side of her mid-century home and out in the yard. The metal herons in her garden symbolize the present of her father’s spiritual presence. 

Bingham suggests starting a garden by getting plantings from other people, as she got hers from her father’s garden. She also has dianthus from the beds around a bank in her hometown in Indiana. And she is a big supporter of plant swaps.

“A garden is a lot of work,” said Bingham, “and I didn’t have the time when I was working, but now it is my passion, as it was my father’s.”

 

Bonnie and Dwayne Wilkinson were also inspired by loss to delve into gardening. After losing their daughter Tiffany to cancer, they built a memorial garden to honor her memory. That experience kept them busy and allowed them to turn their grief into something beautiful, complete with sculptures of their daughter’s favorite frogs.

The Wilkinson’s garden is filled with creative energy blending Bonnie’s love of art and décor with Dwayne’s knowledge of plants and building skills. Their garden is a collection of many themed spaces under massive shade trees. 

After building the memorial garden in 2009, the Wilkinsons added an outdoor kitchen and a network of stone floored living spaces designed by landscape architect Anne Hosfield of Southern Creations. The spaces she designed include a seating area with a fountain, a dining space, and an area for a hot tub. 

They love to add items they have purchased on their world travels, and bits of this and that they have found locally to their yard. It is a true blend of nature and manmade. Many of the arbors and decorative pieces have been built by Dwayne, a retired aeronautics engineer. He also wired a stop light they found in a trash heap, which hangs in their outdoor kitchen, to change colors.  

Their Asian garden offers a collection of items they purchased on oversees travels in the Far East. The entrance is a Torii Gate built by Dwayne and paper lanterns hang from the trees. It offers a sense of peace and a pergola festooned with clematis, wisteria and grape vines.

“I love clematis,” said Bonnie. “It grows well in shade, and most of our garden is in shade, so we have to be careful about what we plant in it.” 

They tell amusing stories about the meaning of the many items scattered throughout. There is a frog purchased in Bangkok to honor the memory of their daughter, a mantle purchased in one of the little shops in Bell Buckle, and buckets hanging from a tree that Dwayne designed using an antique pulley system. One of Bonnie’s favorite places to find yard art and décor is Greenhouse Ministries’ Garden Patch Thrift Shop. 

 

Sherry Mosier’s yard is a retirement project, mainly filled with a large vegetable garden pregnant with promise and a fairy garden housing a collection of herbs. All of which she has used to cook with. 

“And by the time the Secret Garden Tour happens, the wall of sunflowers on the edge of my vegetable garden will be about shoulder high,” said Mosier.

Mosier’s garden backs up against a pasture filled with cattle, who like to snack on many of the plants along the fence line, so she has to be careful what she plants there. She is still experimenting and learning, being the newest Master Gardener in the group. 

“I love all gardens,” said Mosier, “but not all types of gardens are appropriate to your surroundings.” 

The clay soil of Tennessee was the hardest thing for Mosier to deal with. Careful to keep the status of her organic vegetable garden, Mosier has spent a lot of time breaking down the clay soil by working in tons of organic mulch. It has been quite an effort, but it has paid off. 

She also does a lot to draw natural pollinators, and birds. She is especially a fan of hummingbirds.

Like the other gardeners who will be opening their home to the Secret Garden Tour, she enjoys yard art. Much of it she has found from craft fairs. She loves to support local artists. 

“I don’t do this alone,” added Mosier. “I could not do it without my husband’s help and support.” And that of their pup, Ellie Mae. 

Additional Information 

To buy tickets to the Secret Garden Tour on June 8th and June 9th, please visit https://www.explorethedc.org/events/sgt2024. There are also addresses and descriptions of each garden on the website. 

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