Visiting garden expert great excuse for party

Knoxville Botanical Garden Executive Director Keyes Williamson with author Judith B. Tankard at the Stairs' home earlier this month.

Knoxville Botanical Garden Executive Director Keyes Williamson with author Judith B. Tankard at the Stairs' home earlier this month.

I have to say, the entry of the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum onto the Knoxville social scene definitely has expanded the diversity of cultural activities available. Case in point: a lecture by an expert on famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll was recently the excuse for (what else?) another garden party!

This one was at the beautiful Lyons View Pike home of Caesar and Dorothy Stair and also included tours of their fabulous gardens. A fundraiser for the Botanical Garden, the dinner was held on the eve of a speech by Judith B. Tankard, who is the author of eight books on American and European landscape history and is the foremost Jekyll expert.

Although the actual meal was moved inside because of rain, I have discovered that a little moisture will  not prevent avid gardeners from perusing a lovely estate.

Dr. Alan Solomon, who also owns one of the most celebrated gardens in Knoxville, with Natalie Haslam.

Dr. Alan Solomon, who also owns one of the most celebrated gardens in Knoxville, with Natalie Haslam.

They simply raise their bumbershoots (Jekyll was English) and plow on. And this was indeed the case that Friday evening.

Tankard’s most recent book is “Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden” and celebrates the work of one of the most important garden designers of the twentieth century. A prolific writer and a hugely influential plantswoman, Jekyll’s circle of friends included some of the most distinguished architects, horticulturists, artists, and writers of the time. She is said to have laid the basis for modern garden design and is credited with popularizing an informal, naturalistic look as opposed to the rigid, formal landscapes of the Victorian era. Her 30-year collaboration with architect Edwin Lutyens produced seminal garden masterpieces of the Arts & Crafts movement.

Interestingly, her younger brother, the Reverend Walter Jekyll, was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, who borrowed the family name for his famous novella Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I thought the food and the company at the Stairs’ event were every bit as stimulating as the horticulture we saw and discussed. So, if you are looking for some interesting new social activities, I heartily recommend checking out the Botanical Garden’s website for a list of some to consider.

Click here for a story in the News Sentinel that includes a short interview with Judith Tankard along with her advice for amateur gardeners.

Jim Haslam and Jackie Wilson. Jackie's garden was the scene of another recent fundraiser for the Botanical Garden.

Jim Haslam and Jackie Wilson. Jackie's garden was the scene of another recent fundraiser for the Botanical Garden.

Here is the view of the Tennessee River from the Stairs' terrace.

Here is the view of the Tennessee River from the Stairs' terrace.

A very distinct fountain

A very distinctive fountain

The hydrangeas were in full bloom the night of our visit.

The hydrangeas were in full bloom the night of our visit.

Beautiful pathway

Beautiful pathway

Another lovely fountain

Another lovely fountain

I think Gertrude Jekyll would like this garden because it is very "architectural."

I think Gertrude Jekyll would have liked this garden because it is very "architectural."

Pool house

Pool house

Wow. Stunning.

Wow. Stunning.

Everywhere I looked in this garden, I saw something beautiful. Even on a rainy evening.

Everywhere I looked in this garden, I saw something beautiful. Even on a rainy evening.

From left, John Tankard, Ethiel Garlington and Tom McAdams

From left, John Tankard, Ethiel Garlington and Tom McAdams

I love herbs. I see Dorothy does, too.

I love herbs. I see Dorothy does, too.

Holly Hambright of Holly's Eventful Dining was the caterer. She made even the simple cheese plate into a work of art.

Holly Hambright of Holly's Eventful Dining was the caterer. She made even the simple cheese plate into a work of art.

Crostini were passed during the cocktail hour.

Crostini were passed during the cocktail hour.

The centerpieces were breathtaking.

The centerpieces were breathtaking.

Caesar Stair and Ileen Cheek

Caesar Stair and Ileen Cheek

One of the best salad courses ever!

One of the best salad courses ever!

University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, sitting, and Jim Haslam

University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, sitting, and Jim Haslam

The trout a la meuniere was out of this world! Everything else was good, too. But the trout trumped them all!

The sole a la meuniere was out of this world! Everything else was good, too. But the sole trumped them all!

Jeff Chapman and Mary Johnson

Jeff Chapman and Mary Johnson

Tom McAdams and Vicki Chapman

Tom McAdams and Vicki Chapman

Melissa Keyes and my husband, Alan Carmichael

Melissa Williamson and my husband, Alan Carmichael

Jim Haslam and Betsey Bush. Betsey also has a fantastic garden behind her Kingston Pike home.

Jim Haslam and Betsey Bush. Betsey also has a fantastic garden behind her Kingston Pike home.

Mary and Rick Johnson

Mary and Rick Johnson

Alan's favorite course

Alan's favorite course

Vicki Baumgartner of the Botanical Garden and Betsey Bush

Vicki Baumgartner of the Botanical Garden and Betsey Bush

From left, Tom McAdams, Dorothy and Caesar Stair and Alan Carmichael

From left, Tom McAdams, Dorothy and Caesar Stair and Alan Carmichael

Rain on a hydrangea. It was a gentle end to a stressful work week. I love Knoxville.

Rain on a hydrangea. It was a gentle end to a stressful work week. I love Knoxville.

Here is a link to a Saveur recipe for classic sole a la meuniere. Click here. I may just have to make it this weekend, thanks to Holly turning out such a delicious version of it.

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4 Responses to Visiting garden expert great excuse for party

  1. Gay Lyons, on June 20th, 2013 at 3:41 pm said:

    This looks fabulous. I second the comment about events put on by the Botanical Garden.

  2. Ellen Robinson, on June 20th, 2013 at 3:54 pm said:

    Wonderful post, Mox. The KBGA is a treasure. This event looks like it was great fun — Dorothy and Caesar’s garden is, IMO, the most beautiful in Knoxville. And, no surprise that Holly’s meal rocked. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Cynthia Moxley, on June 20th, 2013 at 3:58 pm said:

    Hey, Ellen: I really do love the Stairs’ garden. But I’m finding something very interesting by going to all these gardens this year: they are so very different. Been to Betsey Bush’s, Jackie Wilson’s, Kreis Beall’s, Sharon Pryse’s and, of course, the Botanical Garden itself. The variety is just amazing. Do you think there are more garden parties than there used to be? (I’m all for it!)

  4. Sara Rose, on June 21st, 2013 at 10:35 pm said:

    I am “green” with garden envy.

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