The University of Tennessee Gardens is a statewide system of three gardens—the original gardens, located along Neyland Drive in Knoxville; gardens at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Jackson; and the Discovery Gardens at UT’s Plateau AgResearch and Education Center.
The gardens along Neyland Drive were established in 1983 by the (then) Department of Plant Sciences and Landscape Systems as a vision of department head Dr. Doug Crater. They are one of 34 official All-America Selections trial gardens in the nation. All-America Selections is a nonprofit organization that tests plants throughout the United States and then recommends the best. UT faculty and students are responsible for judging the plants and keeping records of their progress. To be an All-America Selection, plants have to do well at the trial gardens throughout the country. In addition, UT tests new varieties released by seed companies and “old standby” plants for comparison. In the summer of 1989, UT was the first trial garden in the country for Fleuroselect, the European equivalent of All-America Selections.
The gardens along Neyland Drive feature more than 1,400 varieties of herbaceous and woody landscape plants. Highlights include the Beall Family Rose Garden—the largest public rose garden in Tennessee; a formal herb garden; and a wide array of unusual annuals, perennials, and ornamental shrubs.
Funding for the gardens is provided by the UT Agriculture Experiment Station, as well as over 20 commercial seed and plant companies that provide financial support for production, maintenance, and plant evaluation. A community support group, Friends of the Gardens (FOG), also provides substantial support of the Knoxville site.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the Friends of the Gardens officially dedicated the Friendship Plaza, which Silver Anniversary Friends (donors of $2,500 or more) helped to make possible. The names of the donors are inscribed on a donor wall. The plaza includes a brick entranceway and gathering place for special events. FOG members collected and donated more than $150,000 for the plaza, which took almost two years to complete and incorporated assistance from more than one hundred volunteers.
The gardens at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center became part of the UT Gardens system in 1989. The Discovery Gardens at the Plateau AgResearch and Experiment Center, first planted in 2005, joined the UT Gardens system in April 2013.
In 2003 the gardens were named a level-three arboretum by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council in cooperation with the Tennessee Council of Garden Clubs and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry.
In April 2013 Governor Bill Haslam signed into law a bill (the primary sponsors were State Senator Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville and State Representative Jimmy Eldridge of Jackson), which named the UT Gardens system the Official Tennessee Botanical Garden. The bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate.