by Judy Neal | photos by Kenzie Campbell + Brad Gilmer
As we emerge from our pandemic cocoons, eager to reconnect with the world around us, we can start with a stroll through the gardens of Cooper-Young. Experience the sights and sounds that bring us back to green growing things, the excitement of community, and a profusion of ideas as big as the blooms on the hollyhocks.
In its sixth year, the Cooper- Young Garden Walk (CYGW) is as fresh and unique as ever. This year more than 80 homes will show off their personal take on the Southern landscape. Unlike the grassy manicured lawns of the suburbs so often featured in garden walks and glossy magazines, Cooper- Young pays homage to its turn- of-the-century architecture with its narrow front lawns and private back yards. Urban gardeners have learned to use every square inch of space like an artist painting all the peoples of the world on a small canvas.
“I’m amazed at the imaginative ideas for local gardens that have grown out of the necessity of staying at home,” says Kim halyak, C-Y Garden Club member and founder of the CYGW. “We have new greenhouses, yard art, koi ponds and backyard living spaces to add to the beautiful gardens we’re accustomed to seeing.”
The diversity of the Cooper- Young gardens is equal to the diversity of the neighborhood residents. Ranging from singles to couples to families and university students, the neighborhood spans economic, ethnic, racial, and gender demographics making it a safe place to express a green thumb in some uncommon ways.
Expect to see traditional gardens with tiered flower beds and blooming shrubbery alongside front yard fruit trees and back yard chicken coops. The CYGW is pleased to see the results of educational efforts on behalf of native plants, pollinators, and sustainability. Homes on the CYGW include beehives, butterfly gardens, bird sanctuaries, and lily ponds. Other gardens will display xeriscaping and hydroponics, unique responses to small growing spaces and conservation of resources.
As the Garden-Walk has blossomed, so has the festival atmosphere it brings to Cooper-Young. Garden walkers can attend presentations, collect informative brochures, buy plants, garden art and other merchandise, and listen to musicians. Local restaurants will offer discounts and specials. Local merchants support the CYGW through the Cooper- Young Business Association, and are happy to have the opportunity to introduce their stores to new customers. Rounding out the extras is an antique auto collection, back by popular demand.
The Cooper-Young Garden Walk is an event that brings together people from all over the city, county, and state. Based on former events, 900 to 1500 visitors are expected, many from areas outside of Memphis.
Memphis has long been a transportation hub and the central base for southern food, music, river lore, and civil rights history. Our long growing season and farming traditions have made gardeners out of most of us. The rest of us benefit from the beautiful environment the garden walk brings to the historic Cooper- Young neighborhood.
According to Kim Halyak, “Garden tourism is the second fastest growing travel segment after food tourism. Cooper-Young can satisfy both interests. There’s no reason we can’t grow into a premiere garden walk destination as big as Buffalo, Portland, or Seattle.”
A noticeable phenomenon in the Cooper-Young neighborhood is the effect that peer pressure has had on local curb appeal. One of the early CYGW slogans was “Making Cooper-Young Beautiful One Garden at a Time.” As residents began sprucing up their lawns, building new garden beds, and planting flowers and vegetables, non-garden walk neighbors took notice
and began their own projects. CYGW ticket holders may enter nearly a hundred spaces for an up close look, but they will see far more beauty in an ever- improving historic area.
The CYGW is a self-guided tour that allows you to choose the order in which you want
to view the gardens and the amount of time you wish to spend in each one. The map will also point out particular features like specialty gardens, outdoor kitchens, sculptures and urban farming. The CYGW is a true community project staffed by volunteers and sponsored by local businesses. Knowledgeable docents greet visitors at each of the participating homes. A bicycle tour is another good way to see the flora and fauna and get a little exercise. New this year is a recumbent tricycle tour.
Whether your interest lies in seeing the beauty in nature or in learning from the dozen expert speakers, the Cooper- Young Garden Walk will provide you with a one-of-a-kind experience. Everyone takes home at least one great idea for their own outdoor space. Everyone sees what can happen when this community shows off its vibrant, artistic vibe. It is most proud of the individual accomplishments, quirks, and love of gardening that come together to make Cooper-Young a great place to live and grow.
The 2021 Cooper-Young Garden Walk is Saturday and Sunday, May 15-16, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased in advance at www.cooperyounggardenwalk.org or at the gazebo ticket booth during the event. Your ticket is valid for both days. For additional information, visit: https://www.cooperyounggardenclub.org/cooper-young-garden-walk/faqs/