Discover Knoxville’s Secret Gardens
Everyone loves secrets and I have one for you.
This secret garden is a shinning jewel hidden in an industrial part of Knoxville. It’s small, but the three-acre garden is worth a visit.
“Not many people know about it. People have lived in Knoxville all their lives, yet they’ve never heard of Racheff Gardens,” says Janet Oakes, the gardens’ chairman.
Located in the working-class neighborhood of Lonsdale, the Ivan Racheff House and Gardens once belonged to a Bulgarian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island. He washed dishes and peeled potatoes before entering the University of Illinois where he received a degree in metallurgy in 1917. In Chicago he operated a consulting business that brought him to the Knoxville Iron Works. He intended to tell the owners to close up shop, but instead he purchased the company and turned it around. He was president from 1947-1968.
Beginning in 1947 with an expenditure of $76 for grass seed, trees and shrubs, he set out to turn the ugly lot — actually a slag heap — into a beautiful garden. Over the years his efforts created formal gardens, a wildflower garden, the fern cobble, a Japanese-inspired tea house, shaded lawns and a pool with water plants and goldfish.
“People in the neighborhood remember Mr. Racheff and they share their stories with us. They recall seeing him sit on the porch. He would greet everyone,” says Janet. He lived in the second floor apartment in the house and operated the adjacent steel mill from his office on the main floor.
In 1972 Mr. Racheff gave the garden to the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs to own and maintain for the benefit and enrichment of the public. He died in 1982 at the age of 90.
“It’s really a springtime garden — tulips, daffodils, azaleas, and dogwoods,” says Janet. “People take their lunch hour and walk around the grounds. It relaxes them to walk the path. We think it’s a special place.”
The garden is also a certified Class 1 Arboretum, and the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The gardens are open to the public from 9-4 Monday through Friday from mid-February until mid-Decembers. Every year, during the Dogwood Arts Festival, extra hours are added to the schedule and garden hosts are present to answer questions.
Gardens lovers can visit dozens of small gardens as part of the Dogwood Arts Festival. This year, in conjunction with the festival, three open rose gardens are presented by members of the Tennessee Rose Society. They are open the weekends of May 18-19 and May 25-26 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Gardens at historical homes also are open for visitors. Blount Mansion, Marble Springs and Ramsey House have small garden patches designed to be re-creations of how flower and vegetable gardens might have looked in the 18th and 19th centuries. Savage Garden, a private garden in Knoxville’s Fountain City neighborhood, is open occasionally for special events.
The Knoxville Botanical Garden, located in a quiet neighborhood on the east side of the city, features specialty flower beds and an arboretum with rare and unusual trees. Round stone buildings, terraces, stone walls, and paths remain from the days when this property was a nursery.
The University of Tennessee Gardens were recently named the official botanical garden or the state. This recognition let out the secret about the UT Trail gardens, a premier display fronting Neyland Drive. Visitors wander through many garden rooms spread across several acres.
Listen around East Tennessee for secret gardens and you will hear mentioned the Tennessee River Gardens in Chattanooga, Sunshine Hollow Gardens in Athens, Hedgewood Gardens in Townsend, Savage Gardens in Lake City, and Rosewood Gardens in Sevierville.
What’s your favorite Tennessee garden?