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Oaklawn Garden a ‘historical gem’ of Germantown

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The Cloyes property, also named Oaklawn Garden by Mamie Cloyes, is one of Germantown’s historical treasures.

Situated right next to the railroad tracks along Poplar Pike, the Vernacular-style farmhouse on the site has been said to have been built circa 1875. Fritz Hussy, Mamie Cloyes’ uncle, bought 20-acres along with the house in 1918. He died in 1941 leaving the farm to Mamie Cloyes. She would live at Oaklawn Garden and raise her one son, Harry Cloyes, who was born there in 1926. Mamie and Harry both lived at Oaklawn Garden their entire lives.

Currently, Germantown is working to develop a long-range master plan for the historic site with architectural historian Judith Johnson and Associates.

The well-known Memphis-based firm specializes in National Historic Register applications, preservation plans and tax credit assistance for historic sites and buildings. The Tennessee Historic Commission has reviewed the National Historic Register application submitted by the firm for Oaklawn Garden and has forwarded the documents to the National Park Service for comments and approval.

Johnson stated, “Oaklawn Garden is one of the most unique and fascinating properties that I’ve ever worked on for the National Historic Register.”

One of the most interesting aspects of Oaklawn Garden is that it was a suburban commercial flower farm and nursery (floriculture) from 1920 to 1967.

In the United States, floriculture commerce began soon after the European colonization of North America. Fritz Hussy and Mamie Cloyes began their journey in this industry in 1920.

With an abundant spring flush of yellow, orange and white blooms, Mamie Cloyes began growing daffodils and selling them off the back porch of her home in 1924. Soon after that she would begin a commercial greenhouse operation and garden.

Mamie Cloyes sold cut flowers at the former curb market in Memphis’ Crosstown neighborhood until 1951, when she moved the shop to her home in Germantown.

While other nurseries operated nearby during this period, Oaklawn Garden advertised itself in later years as Germantown’s oldest continuously operating nursery.

In 1951, Harry was married and his wife Becky Cloyes joined the business. In 1957, the family built a new florist shop on the property, replacing the back-porch operation.

They planted the first azaleas at Oaklawn Garden in 1938 and by the late 1960s, the collection had grown to more than 2,000 specimens, along with 6,000 bedding plants, native dogwoods, redbuds, flowering shrubs, ornamental trees and 350 varieties of daffodils. Many of these remain on the property today.

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.

In the mid-1980’s, Harry and Becky Cloyes decided to work with the City of Germantown to ensure that their property was preserved for the public to enjoy in perpetuity.

A living trust was created, which allowed the couple to reside at their home for the duration of their lives. Becky Cloyes died in December of 2015, at which time Oaklawn Garden became a part of the City of Germantown’s park system.

When Harry and Becky Cloyes gifted their Oaklawn Garden property to the City of Germantown, they envisioned the preservation of this unique piece of land as a place to inspire visitors to appreciate and learn about history, trees, shrubs and flowers.

Oaklawn Garden’s six acres is known throughout west Tennessee as Germantown’s “azalea park.”

Home to hundreds of native and exotic azaleas, thousands of daffodils (many dating back to the early 1900s) and a beautiful stand of trees and woody shrubs, the garden also features an eclectic display of Germantown’s history.

The southeast portion of the property has a natural depression which created conditions for a microclimate, perfect for growing nursery stock and flowers. Located near the center of the property is a north-south cedar tree allee that marks a well-worn cow path. This is a well-known icon in Germantown.

The City of Germantown Parks and Recreation Department, the Germantown Tree Board, the Suburban Garden Club and dedicated groups of master gardeners, arborists and boy scouts worked together to establish the Oaklawn Garden Arboretum in the spring of 2017.

The Tennessee Nature Conservancy partnered with the City to make the Oaklawn Garden Arboretum one of their “If Trees Could Sing” official sites.

“If Trees Could Sing” is a Nature Conservancy 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 speak up for (and sometimes sing and play instruments) for their favorite trees.

Musical artists include Reba McEntire, Amy Grant, Bela Fleck, rapper 8Ball and many others. The Oaklawn Garden Arboretum in Germantown is the 13th park in Tennessee and Georgia to feature the colorful signs of “If Trees Could Sing.”

The Oaklawn Garden Arboretum is open daily for self guided tours from 8 a.m. to dusk.

The process of restoring the Oaklawn Garden property has started, but there is much work to be done in order to return the garden site back to the days of Harry and Becky Cloyes.

There is momentum and desire for this restoration to happen. This incredible public space is the result of Harry and Becky’s passion for gardening and their generosity. It’s going to take extraordinary efforts made by people who love Germantown and believe in the preservation of our precious resources in order to make the property all it can be.

Germantown has already seen residents wanting to step up to help restore the site. The city is also excited to see what the future holds for its treasured Oaklawn Garden.