Sevier County Tennessee is a place where your eye naturally moves up to the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains. More than 11 million people come to the region each year to feed from this particular gift of Mother Nature.
But when your gardener’s eye goes looking for well-manicured and thoughtfully-designed landscapes, even the master gardeners of Sevier County will recommend a day at Dollywood.
“The mountains fulfill most of our needs for natural beauty in this area,” says Dixie Seaton with the Sevier County Master Gardeners Club. “We’re always in awe of what the landscapers at Dollywood do each year. That’s where I take my gardening friends.”
More popular among many visitors than Smoky Mountain National Park, Dolly Parton and the theme park that carries her name is indeed a great destination for gardeners.
When you first enter the park, you’ll see a reproduction of the two-room log cabin where Dolly was born and raised. The bright red splashes in the landscaping are Dolly Parton roses.
Indeed, the singer, song writer and actress has a bright red, fragrant rose in her name. Rose hybridizer Joseph Winchel patented the Dolly Parton rose in 1984, two years before what had been Silver Dollar City became Dollywood.
“I’m surprised that a wildflower wasn’t named after me. Certainly, it’s a real compliment to have a rose instead,” she has said about the honor.
Dolly admits she is not a gardener at all, but on more than one occasion, she has grabbed a shovel and planted her roses in spaces throughout Dollywood. In a tradition that began in 1992, Dolly plants her roses in memory of family and friends that have been such an important part of her life.
Those roses at the little log cabin at the entrance? Those were the first and planted in honor of her parents, Lee and Avie Lee Parton. You’ll find clusters of roses throughout the park with bronze markers beside them, noting the individual and Dolly’s relationship. Some names you’ll recognize: Carl Perkins, Tammy Wynette, Dom Deluise. Others, like Tony Chase, are not so recognizable. Tony was Dolly’s fashion designer for many years. It’s a thought-provoking tour of the flowers.
Other gardens in Dollywood celebrate the many musicians that have performed in the park over the years. These “Friendship Gardens” evolve and rotate each year with fresh annuals, keeping Dollywood an engaging and visual experience for gardeners.
Other Garden Areas
However, there is more in bloom to appreciate in Sevier County than Dolly Parton’s roses. Not far away is Parrot Mountain and Gardens, home to hundreds of exotic birds from all over the world. For many visitors, the highlight is holding and feeding some of the rare and beautiful birds.
But for the gardener, a relaxing stroll through the English style gardens where fountains, natural streams and waterfalls provide the backdrop for equally colorful birds and plants. Parrot Mountain is a lovely space for lunch and finding a fun new treasure for your garden in the gift shop.
The city of Sevierville is home to 12 miles of greenway along the Little Pigeon River. If you access the greenway via the free parking lot at Main Street and Hardin Lane, you’ll be at the beginning of the Burchfiel Grove and Arboretum. Along a paved path about three-quarters of a mile long, you’ll find more than 75 trees identified by their scientific names as well as their common names.
To touch a bit of botanical history, head down Bruce Street in downtown Sevierville in search of the lovely white gazebo adjacent to a southern magnolia. That tree is a cutting from one that adorned the south portico of the White House for more than 175 years. President Andrew Jackson planted a seedling in memory of his wife Rachel who died just a few days before his inauguration in 1829. The southern magnolia was featured on the back of $20 bill from 1928 to 1998 when the bill was redesigned.
All of this is maintained by the Sevierville Parks and Recreation Department. If you visit town in May for the Bloomin’ Barbeque and Bluegrass Festival, you can chat with staff and volunteers as they give away seedlings.
And finally, the overwhelming reason to visit this region is the Smoky Mountain National Park.
While the biggest crowds show up in October to enjoy the autumn colors, gardeners may appreciate the spring months for the spectacular showing of wildflowers. The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage each April is a professionally guided event that will take you to some of the most scenic locations to enjoy the biodiversity of the mountains.
If you can’t make it during the pilgrimage, or just prefer to go it on your own, the Porters Creek Trail in the Greenbriar area of the park is one of more spectacular trails for wildflowers. From the trailhead to the Fern Branch Falls, it’s a moderate two mile hike on an unpaved trail, and one that should guarantee you inspiration for wildflower plantings at home.
WHEN YOU GO:
When in Sevier County, there are two places that everyone eats and for good reason – it’s just fabulous food. But for gardeners, these spaces are extra special.
Adjacent to the Old Mill, which dates to 1830, the Old Mill Restaurant is home to authentic southern cooking and the best pecan pies ever. Across the street in the Old Mill Square, just in front of the Candy Kitchen, is a small garden filled with Dolly Parton roses.
The Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, located in the oldest building in Sevier County, is another destination for authentic southern cooking. Located on the banks of the Little Pigeon River, the lovely grounds are enhanced with more Dolly Parton roses. And inside the farmhouse, Chef Roman Campbell maintains a living wall of fresh herbs used in his kitchens.
The landscaping that makes Dollywood so special is continued onto the grounds of the DreamMore Resort.
Featured image: Dolly Parton rose / Missouri Botanical Garden
A travel writer from Kansas City, Missouri, Diana Lambdin Meyer is an award-winning member of the Society of American Travel Writers who enjoys visiting gardens in her travels around the world.