Most Memphians are familiar with the Cooper-Young Neighborhood. It’s that funky neighborhood bordered by East Parkway, Southern Avenue, Central Avenue, and McLean Boulevard. You have likely visited one of the numerous restaurants, music venues, or eclectic shops that line Cooper and Young. Maybe you have even attended the Cooper-Young festival. And, anyone who has visited Cooper-Young is familiar with the neighborhood’s symbol, the Maidenhair tree leaf. But, what you may not realize is just how much gardening is a part of the community. At the core of that is the Cooper-Young Garden Club.
I was unaware of how much gardening figures into the community of Cooper-Young until the summer of 2016. I had just taken a job as manager of a garden center near, but unlike my present employer, Palladio Garden, not in Cooper-Young. That was when Kim Halyak came into the store to introduce herself. At the time, she was president of the Cooper-Young Garden Club. Accordingly, she was there to tell me about the Cooper-Young Garden Walk. She asked me for help in preparing for the second annual rendition of it in May of 2017.
So, it wasn’t long before Kim launched into the point of her visit. She explained that I needed to start thinking about how I could be of assistance in making the second Cooper-Young Garden Walk better than the first one. Frankly, though I wanted to help, she, and other members of the Cooper-Young Garden Club helping her struck me as overly-ambitious. In fact, I misjudged them, and the community of Cooper-Young, terribly.
The Cooper-Young Garden Walk is now in its 4th year. Each year they have sold hundreds of tickets, brought in prominent speakers, like Dr. Doug Tallamy, Chris Cosby, Lisa Orgler, and Carol Reese. The walk has given numerous people of all income levels an introduction to gardening concepts and inspiration for their own yards. Also, they have helped members of the community of Cooper-Young get to know each other better. The walk has increased foot traffic in neighborhood businesses, and likely increased property values. Moreover, it is likely that their success was a significant factor in Palladio Garden‘s decision to start offering plants. Palladio Garden is, after all, a member of the Cooper-Young Community. The family of stores owned by Palladio, LLC sit along then neighborhood’s northern boundary, Central Avenue.
So, what drives the vision? When Kim does slide presentations, she often leads with a quote from Frank Blake, former CEO of Home Depot, “You get what you celebrate.” Her idea seems to be that if we celebrate crime and gangsters, we get more of that. But, if we celebrate gardening and beauty, we get more of it. As Kim says, “This is how you change a city. You change it with beauty.” And, this idea is perfectly in line with the mission of Palladio Garden, to “enrich our culture and enhance our community through Beauty, Creativity, and Excellence.”
Yet, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just another group of dreamers thinking of ways to spend your tax dollars on new bright and shiny projects. Instead, what the Cooper-Young Garden Club envisions and has created is a ground-roots, democratically created, and accessible-to-all approach to improving our city. Moreover, this effort is all at no cost to tax payers.
As a corollary, it’s important to understand how a garden walk is different from a garden tour. A garden tour tends to be a curated selection of private gardens, limited in number, selected from many. In contrast, the Cooper-Young Garden Walk’s process is more egalitarian. Anyone in Cooper-Young who wants to be a part of the garden walk can be. In fact, this year, there will be well over 80 homes included!
So, do garden walks really help communities? The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” Consider the Buffalo Garden Walk, from which Kim, her friend Sharon Johnson (owner of Stone Soup Cafe) , and other members of the Cooper-Young Garden Club took their inspiration. Each year, the Buffalo Garden Walk brings in about 65,000 visitors and over $5 million in revenues, in just one weekend.
Now, to be sure, the Cooper-Young Garden Walk has nowhere near those numbers. But, the Buffalo Garden Walk started in 1995. This was two years after two New York residents attended the Sheffield Garden Walk in Chicago, Illinois and decided the concept could work equally well in Buffalo. I predict that, one day, Kim Halyak, Sharon Johnson, and the Cooper-Young Garden Club will hold a prominent place in the history of Memphis. The fruits of their vision will multiply.
The 4th Annual Cooper-Young Garden Walk is on the weekend of May 18 & 19. To learn more, just go to the Cooper-Young Garden Club‘s page. You’ll be able to see the schedule, download the neighborhood’s arboretum map, see a schedule of the activities, and buy tickets. Additionally, if you choose to wait until the last minute to buy tickets, come to Palladio Garden at 2231 Central Avenue on the evening of Friday May 17. You can buy a ticket and also hear Suzy Askew discuss her new book Native Plants of Tennessee: A Book of Lists.
P.S. Did I mention that this event improves the city and brings in tourists, AT NO COST TO TAX PAYERS?
The author, John Jennings, is Palladio’s Manager of Horticulture. John is an ISA Certified Arborist and is licensed to apply chemicals for horticultural purposes in Tennessee. John also writes the Garden Variety Column for Memphis Magazine. If you have questions or comments about this article, or any other horticulture related topic, please reach out to him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Most days, he can be found in or near Palladio’s horticulture building at 2231 Central Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104.