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The Flower House at Oaklawn Garden


2018/12/04











Article & photos by Nancy Brannon

While at other locations in Germantown, Tenn. intact forests are being bulldozed to make room for multi-story brick buildings, a group of locals are involved a grassroots public garden restoration initiative at Oaklawn Garden, 7831 Poplar Pike, next door to the Germantown Charity Horse Show grounds.

Oaklawn Garden was named by its former owner Mamie Cloyes, who operated one of the first suburban commercial flower farms and nurseries in Shelby County, from 1920-1967.  It was once the most significant horticultural display in the area, home to hundreds of native and exotic azaleas, thousands of daffodils (many dating to the early 1900s) and a beautiful stand of trees and woody scrubs. The garden also features an eclectic display of  “found objects” relating to Germantown’s history.  Situated next to the railroad tracks, it is appropriate that a Southern Railway 1889 box car and Norfolk and Western 1944 caboose are “found” on the property. There is also Germantown’s 1942 fire truck and a sign from Germantown’s first jail.

The property includes a Vernacular-style farm house that was built in 1854 on then William Carter’s 493 acres of land. In 1918 Fritz Hussy, Mamie Cloyes’ uncle, bought 20 acres along with the house. Hussey died in 1941, leaving the farm to Mamie Cloyes. At Oaklawn, Mamie raised her son Harry Cloyes, and both lived there their entire lives. In 1951 Harry married and his wife, Becky Cloyes, joined the floriculture business.

In the 1980s, Harry and Becky created a living trust with the City of Germantown to ensure that the property would be preserved for the public to enjoy in perpetuity.  Becky Cloyes died in December 2015, and afterwards, the property became part of the public park system of the City of Germantown in 2016. When Harry and Becky Cloyes gifted Oaklawn Garden to the City of Germantown, they envisioned the preservation of their land as a place where visitors could appreciate and learn about the area’s history, trees, shrubs and flowers. Today, Oaklawn Garden is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated Arboretum by the state of Tennessee.

In 2017 the Germantown Parks and Recreation Commission began a long-range master plan for this historic site. The plan calls for the main house to be repurposed as a visitors center, create accessible indoor and outdoor gathering spaces, return a greenhouse to the site, restore the landscaped beds and walkways, and develop an educational plan for interpreting the flower farming history of the property.

To achieve these goals, civic organizations are working with the City of Germantown to raise the financial resources needed to implement this plan and restore the home and gardens. So what more creative way to raise funds than to turn the Cloyes house into The Flower House? The transformation was organized by Pam Beasley, Germantown Parks and Recreation director, Jacque Clift, Germantown Museum board president, and Lynda Smith, secretary for the Germantown Charity Horse Show and Suburban Garden Club Oaklawn chair. Floral artists from Germantown and surrounding areas were solicited to transform each room of the house into a floral masterpiece. Everything was decorated with flowers – including the kitchen sink! On the first weekend in November, Friday and Saturday, 2-3, 2018, The Flower House was officially open to visitors for tours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Designers included the Garden District that created arrangements in the living room; LeFleur of Memphis had charge of the dining room; Germantown’s own Holliday Flowers transformed the kitchen; Millstone Nursery created several scenes in the back porch potting place; the Suburban Garden Club decorated the powder room; Everbloom Design transformed the front reading room; and John Mark Enterprises created a bed of flowers in the master bedroom. The featured flower designer came all the way from Bozeman, Montana to create designs in the entry hall. Julio Freitas, owner of The Flower Hat, brought dried plants, such as tumbleweed, and flowers from the west and coupled them with plants and flowers grown on the property.

Smith was very impressed with the variety and creativity of the floral designs and quite pleased with the weekend’s turnout of visitors. “We want to restore the house and have it become the welcome center for Oaklawn. We want this to become the ‘Dixon’ [Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tenn.] of Germantown.”

In addition to the multitude of botanic treats for the eyes, there was music, featuring several musicians at different times of the days. On Saturday afternoon, Josh Threlkeld played his guitar and serenaded the visitors with his “acoustic soul” style music. He received a GMA Music award in 2003 and was a New Song Songwriter Showcase finalist. Josh has special ties to the area, too. For several years, he lived in the little white house on the property next door (7901 Poplar Pike), on what is now Bobby Lanier Farm Park, when it was then Michael and Joan Terry’s Ocean View Farm. He also rode horses there. Check out his music and his website: http://joshthrelkeld.com/

There were also educational classes over the weekend at the Pickering Center next door. Topics included: Companion Planting: How To Deter Pests and Encourage Beneficial Insects; Seasonal Flower Arrangement; Tablescapes; Soil Building for Beautiful Flowers; Small Scale Flower Farming; Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden; and The Oaklawn Garden Story.

Find more information about the Flower House on facebook and at: https://www.flowerhouseatoaklawngarden.com/about-the-flower-house/.

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