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City’s historic neighborhood features ‘singing’ trees

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When Germantown was incorporated in 1841, the city was considered “out in the country, far from the Memphis city limits.”

The city consisted of one square mile, a half mile each way from the train depot that was the center of town.

The Memphis Charlestown Railroad started laying track through Germantown in 1852. The main transportation from Germantown to Memphis was by train.

Today, there are a few properties left that reflect Germantown’s history and the Cloyes property, named Oaklawn Garden by Mamie Cloyes, is one such local treasures.

Situated next to the railroad tracks, the home on the site is said to have been built in 1854. Fritz Hussy bought 20 acres with the house in 1918. He died in 1941. His nephew, Harry Cloyes, was born in the home and lived there with this mother, Mamie Cloyes. Both lived at Oaklawn Garden their entire lives.

The Cloyes’ family worked with flowers, beginning with daffodils in 1924, by “Miss Mamie.” She died on Jan. 16, 1978 and the daffodils are still kept in her memory. Becky Cloyes, Harry’s wife, worked alongside Harry beginning in 1951.

Over the years, Harry and Becky would collect historic, discarded and unusable items and repurpose them in their garden. Their desire was to tell the story of Germantown’s history, create interesting and educational displays and continue the journey of creating their Oaklawn Garden for visitors to enjoy.

Some of the “found and repurposed items” are from the old Mable C. Williams High School (Germantown High School) that was built in 1911. Other items include memorabilia from the Memphis-Charleston Railroad and Germantown’s first power plant. The Cloyes’ would welcome all who would come to the city’s “garden park museum”.

In the mid-1980’s, Harry and Becky Cloyes decided to work with Germantown to ensure that their property was preserved for the public to enjoy in perpetuity. There was a living trust created allowing the couple to reside at their home throughout their lives. Becky Cloyes died in December of 2015, at which time Oaklawn Garden became a part of Germantown’s park system.

When Harry and Becky Cloyes gifted their Oaklawn Garden property to Germantown, they envisioned the land as place to inspire visitors to appreciate and learn about history, trees, scrubs and flowers.

Oaklawn Garden’s three acres is known throughout west Tennessee as Germantown’s “azalea” park. Home to hundreds of azaleas, thousands of daffodils and a beautiful stand of trees and woody scrubs, the garden also features an eclectic display of Germantown’s history. Many of the trees and plants are over a century old.

The Germantown Parks and Recreation Department, the Germantown Tree Board, the Suburban Garden Club and dedicated groups of master gardeners, arborists and boy scouts have worked together to establish the Oaklawn Garden Arboretum, 7831 Poplar Pike. The Tennessee Nature Conservancy has partnered with the City to make the Oaklawn Garden Arboretum one of their “If Trees Could Sing” official sites. The interactive educational program features information about trees in a very entertaining format. An arboretum trail map is available for visitors.

If Trees Could Sing is a Nature Conservancy tree sign and web video program designed to educate people about common varieties of trees and their many benefits for people. Each tree sign includes a printed code which, when scanned by a smartphone, takes the viewer to a short web-based video.

Across the series of videos, a diverse array of musical artists speaks up for and sometimes sings and plays for their favorite trees. Musical artists include Reba McEntire, Amy Grant, Bela Fleck, rapper 8Ball and many others. Oaklawn Garden in Germantown is the thirteenth park in Tennessee and Georgia to feature the colorful signs of If Trees Could Sing.

Visitors can stop by the Parks and Recreation office, located at 2276 West and very near Oaklawn Garden, to pick up an arboretum tree guide and trail map. The Oaklawn Garden Arboretum is open daily for self guided tours from 8 a.m. to dusk.