By Jessica Mozo
There’s a buzz in the air among Jackson gardeners, and it tends to surround the annual University of Tennessee Summer Celebration Lawn and Garden Show and one big question: What will the theme be this year?
That’s because organizers Jason Reeves and Carol Reese don’t host an average gardening festival with seminars on typical topics. They like to spice things up a bit.
“We do crazy things to get people’s attention,” says Reeves, horticulturalist and research associate at the University of Tennessee’s West Tennessee Research and Education Center, where the Summer Celebration takes place each July. “It also gets the media’s attention, which turns into free advertising. I’m fortunate to have a great boss who lets us get very creative. Basically, we can do anything we want as long as it doesn’t cost money.”
In 2007, for example, celebration organizers collected nearly 300 thrown-away bicycles from local garbage dumps and hung them on cables above garden beds, creating the illusion of bicycles flying through the air. That year was the 100th anniversary of the West Tennessee Research and Education Center, and the theme was “Annual Vines Climbing to New Heights.”
“The locals are always curious about what the theme will be, but we keep it a bit of a secret each year,” says Reese, a UT extension horticulture specialist who leads a popular UT Gardens tour at the event and writes a weekly gardening column for the Jackson Sun.
Another year, organizers collected more than 850 men’s neckties and hung them from bamboo structures at the Summer Celebration, with employees at the event wearing loose neckties. The theme that year was “All Tied Up in Gardening.”
In 2011, the celebration focused on all the possibilities for creating a garden around your mailbox, and the theme was “Come Check the Mail.”
“We created dozens of mailbox gardens with different plantings, and you could reach inside each mailbox and get a brochure about the plants used in that planting,” Reese says.
The mailbox gardens covered a wide range of tastes, “from the elegant to the redneck.”
“There were rural themes, whimsical gardens and even some mailboxes that were shot up,” Reese says with a laugh.
“We had an uptown section, a trailer park section, a redneck section and even a no-maintenance section with silk flowers that had funny names, like Dollar Store Dilly and Wally World Wonder,” Reeves adds.
The Summer Celebration Lawn and Garden Show is now in its 25th year and attracts between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators each year.
“Our visitors have a wide range of skill sets, from the novice gardener to the seasoned expert, but they all have one thing in common – a desire to make their own lawn and landscape beautiful,” says Ginger Trice Rowsey, information specialist for the UT Institute of Agriculture. “And with so many wonderful garden displays, plants for sale and knowledgeable plant people on hand, everyone walks away with fresh ideas for their own garden.”
The Summer Celebration draws visitors from Nashville, Memphis, Mississippi and Arkansas. There are indoor and outdoor tours on the 600-acre property, some of which give participants the opportunity to ride on a wagon through fields of golden sunflowers. Attendees can also sit in on workshops presented by UT experts.
“The grounds are beautiful – there is so much color,” Reese says. “The purpose of the day is to show people how many great plants do well in our climate. People tend to do the same old boring things, but we show them how to express themselves creatively in the garden.”
The 2014 Summer Celebration happens Thursday, July 10 at 9 a.m. Food vendors will be onsite, including lunch prepared by local 4-H members.
“It always feels like a real celebration,” Reese says. “Gardeners are a special bunch – very optimistic and nurturing. The Summer Celebration is a meeting of the minds that creates lots of excitement. At the end of the day, we’re all smiles.”
By the way, if you are wondering what this year’s theme will be, the organizers have revealed that it’s “Southern Spirit” but their lips are sealed on the details. You’ll just have to attend the event to see what they have in store.
If You Go …
The 2014 Summer Celebration Lawn and Garden Show takes place Thursday, July 10, beginning at 9 a.m. at the UT Garden Jackson, located at West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center. It is located at 605 Airways Blvd. in Jackson, TN. Admission is $5 for adults. Children 17 and under are free. For more information, call (731) 424-1643.