Arthur Savage, an Englishman, moved to America in 1886 when he was 14 years old to work for his older brother, William, who had a machine shop in Knoxville. Seven years later, Arthur formed a partnership and started a company of his own that manufactured flour mill machinery and, later, marble mill machines. It was located where World’s Fair Park now is.
Arthur Savage and his wife, Hortense, moved to Fountain City in July of 1917 — into a house whose backyard had no trees, just a sinkhole and a pigpen. Arthur Savage immediately started gardening, first just outside his back door. Within a year, however, he had an elaborate design of flower beds in the backyard and he planted a few trees, which grew rapidly.
Also within a year, Savage had the first of two water towers built and a series of ponds. After a trip back to England in 1925, Savage got ideas for an even larger pond, a pump house and an elaborate pagoda.
He put those ideas to use when he returned to his Fountain City home.
Earlier this week, supporters of the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum were treated to a private tour of Savage Garden by current owners Bill Dohm and Patty Cooper, who bought the Bungalow/Craftsman style house and 1.7-acre garden in 1986 from Arthur Savage’s descendants. And what an interesting couple of hours that was.
It seems that after Arthur Savage poured his heart and soul — and considerable financial resources — into his garden, things took a negative turn. The garden was said to have been at its peak between 1926 and 1930. But three things combined to cause it to fall slowly into disrepair. The Great Depression, which started in 1929, forced Savage to have to reduce and ultimately eliminate the time his longtime gardener, Charlie Davis, spent on the job. Then, in 1937, a tornado struck Fountain City, uprooting 19 trees in the garden. The destruction of these trees tore up the rock foundations in the garden and caused leaks in the ponds. And finally, Savage’s death in 1946 caused the gardens to become even more neglected.
During the next 50 years, the gardens were neglected, but they never were altered or abused. Wildflowers spread, as did English ivy and honeysuckle. The trees that remained grew tall and their canopies spread, causing the kinds of plants that would flourish in the gardens to change from sun-loving specimens to shade-dwellers.
Today, Dohm and Cooper, who also own and run the Garden Montessori School nearby, employ two full-time gardeners to work on the evolving Savage Garden, a real secluded gem just north of Fountain City Park, located at 3237 Garden Drive, a street named for Savage’s handiwork.
There you have it! Another secret that makes Knoxville such a fascinating place to live.
Nice column,Mox. I wonder how many other unknown (to most of us, anyway) jewels like this exist in Knoxville?
Thanks, Katie. I wonder the same thing!
I grew up in Fountain City, and my parents lived on Garden Drive until 2000. I can’t tell you how many times I passed — and admired — Savage Garden. Thanks for the tour of this treasure!
Wow, Candy, how interesting! I had no idea!
I grew up in Fountain City and had a friend who lived near Savage Garden. When we were children we spent a lot of time exploring the gardens, just certain that we’d unearth some hidden treasure. Turns out the “treasure” was right there with us all along. Thanks for reminding me of this special place and giving me an update on where it is today. As always, great reporting!
Wow, Michelle, what a wonderful thing it must have been to play there as a child! Lucky you!
I just visited this wonderful place about 2 weeks ago with a garden club. It is amazing the wonder that is right here in our little town. Southern Living is missing out!!!!
I have driven by these gardens for years, especially in my early years in Real Estate and I always wondered about them A re they open to the public,? I sure would like to tour. thanks for sharing. Fay
Gail: I totally agree!
Fay: There is a sign that directs visitors to check in at the Garden Montessori School. So I assume the public can tour. But check in to be sure.
I like the photo of the rock where the wildflowers are growing.
What a wonderful article!! I grew up on the property where the Montessori school stands today which was also where my father was raised. I walked the gardens as a child and I can still picture the huge Koi fish that swam in the pools. The arbors were covered in beautiful lavender wisteria. I was given permission to pick leaves from some of the more unusual trees to use for a leaf collection for school. Needless to say I received an A. Thanks so much for giving the history as there was much of it that I didn’t know.
I plan to take a tour very soon.
Thanks for sharing that, Patricia. It would have been a fantastic place to explore as a child – or as an adult!
Our son recently purchased a home in Shannondale. Visiting him, we came upon this beautiful and intriguing garden right in Fountain City. It’s a marvelous place to visit and admire the plantings and the architecture.
Savage Garden is a beautiful place. When I was born my parents lived a block away. I have an old black and white photograph Dad took of Mother standing by the pagoda. It was the winter of 1937 or 1938. Around 1952 I got to see the Garden up close. Boy was I surprised when I looked int the pond. I thought “Goldfish a foot long!” My sister Mary is now a Montessori teacher and administrator at a school in Montgomery, Alabama.
I am constantly amazed by the number of treasures Knoxville contains. This one is charming and beautiful.
Mr. Savage also established a Garden in Lake City (now Rocky Top), TN before he moved to Fountain City. It is also a beautiful and fascinating place. They typically are open to the public during the Dogwood Arts Festival. Warning: Be prepared for some hill climbing, but well worth it.
Had a delightful morning with our 6 & 4 year old granddaughters this morning. Thank you SO much for opening this beautiful garden for us.
About the Author
What You’re Saying
My Favorite Blogs