Nashville’s Secret Garden II

Ben Page: Speaking in the Courtyard


It was a hot day in Nashville, but in the shade and cool stone of the Nashville Public Library’s garden retreat, the air was perfect. A soft breeze moved through the columns and children played by the fountain as their mothers laughed over lunch. Ben Page explained that this was the atmosphere the design team envisioned for this courtyard. The dream took form in a beautiful display of vegetation and spaces designed to foster conversation. In the middle of this great city, you will find a place where Nashvillians can enjoy beauty and repartee in an intimate environment.

In the center of this internal garden space is the fountain. This iconic idea is of Greek and Roman precedence, where courtyards centralized around a sometimes-elaborate water source. “There is something musical and even magical about the sound of water in the middle of a courtyard garden,” Page told his audience as the fountain played in the background. The soothing sounds of the fountain mitigate the sounds of the surrounding city. The noise cancelation acts to insulate this space within the city so that the public can enjoy an escape.

“We set the standards high, because Nashvillians know the difference,” remarked Page. Every tree in the courtyard was hand-tagged by Ben Page himself from a rural nursery in north Georgia. Pleaching the trees into a raised hedge is a European technique. This produces a lovely interlocking of branches between trees. As a landscape architect, complementing the existing architecture is essential, and this elegant technique does just that. In the winter, this garden is just as beautiful architecturally as it is in the summer, because “without their leaves the architecture is revealed in the bare bones of the trees.” In every season there is something to enjoy. The “jewelry” atop the bones of the garden is always changing.

Due to the rich, compost-biased soil that was chosen, the trees have grown almost twice as fast, thus creating more shade. As a result, the plant life has evolved in the flowerbeds to accommodate for the maturity and available sunlight. Additionally, each quadrant of the courtyard receives varying amounts of sunlight, and patrons will notice a shift in vegetation along the exterior beds.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the finished project for Page is observing people moving within the space as if it were a never-ending performance art installation. The bistro chairs, wood slats painted green, were chosen for the very fact that they are light and easy to move.  This gives people the opportunity to engage others by relocating the seating across the courtyard, creating eye contact and relationship.

During his presentation, Page acknowledged the skilled hands of the garden’s caretakers. “You cannot neglect a garden of this magnitude.” For example, Kathi Gilleland, of Poise & Ivy, keeps the container gardening in the courtyard overflowing with breath-taking displays of color and texture.

The bigger story is what Nashville, Tennessee has done with this civic garden. Page illustrated that money can buy glamorous things, but this project has become an invaluable fixture in our community. The Nashville Public Library has had the pleasure of hosting numerous cultural and educational events. This courtyard has actually transformed the feeling of the entire building structure. It has become a central aspect of the library. This is the place to which children rush as soon as story time is finished. For these reasons, this project has become a favorite of PAGEDUKE Landscape Architects.