Water feature, Garden structure/sculpture, Woodland/shade garden
Set on a hillside overlooking the Tennessee River and the Great Smoky Mountains, there is an estate of great historical and botanical interest named GATOP (God’s Answer To Our Prayers). Only three miles from downtown Knoxville, this 23-acre, heavily wooded, and extensively landscaped property is located close to land originally settled by the city’s forebears James White and George McNutt. The road used by the stagecoach that carried passengers and their possessions from Norfolk to New Orleans passed through what are now terraces and pathways. Large marble outcroppings (some of which bear inscriptions attributed to prisoners housed in a nearby jail) stand witness to the fact that this and other surrounding sites were the source of marble used, not only locally, but also to clad many of our US public buildings in DC. Indeed, evidence at GATOP of quarrying done by the Vermont Marble Company and others in the late 19th- and early 20th-century is readily apparent.
Located on GATOP property are three homes: The first is “Little Patches,” a small cottage built over 120 years ago that was the home of Fillmore Morgan, whose job was to collect and dispose in the property’s lower valley dead horses that were used to pull fire engines and trollies, and of his spouse, who served as the midwife for women who lived in the surrounding area. The neighboring C.B. Howell Nursery had been the source of many of the trees, hollies, shrubs, perennials, and ground covers that grace the landscape. Several large millstones, used long ago to grind corn at the nearby Williams Creek, have been used as garden entryways. The second dwelling, built in 1932 and walled with native quarried marble, is the “Stone House," and the third is the main dwelling, cconstructed in 1998 and designed in the Arts & Crafts-style by L. Duane Grieve, FAIA, who created a structure that is in harmony with the landscape and, in keeping with the name, overlooks the Tennessee River and Great Smoky Mountains.
GATOP was aptly named by Lloyd and Virginia Pease, who, before moving to Knoxville from Virginia in 1941, prayed that they would find a home that overlooked both water and mountains. The property was purchased from them by Dr. Alan Solomon in 1971, who, over 49 years with the help of skilled, dedicated employees, has endeavored to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of this unusual property. With the help of devoted and skilled gardeners and craftsmen, and his own efforts as an amateur stone mason, much has been accomplished: more than 400 tons of limestone have been collected and used to build walls, walkways, steps, and other structures; waterfalls, ponds, and meandering streams have been constructed; extensive collections of native wildflowers and ferns have been planted; many unusual and rare plant specimens have been intermixed with large native trees including American elm, walnut, ash, hackberry, persimmon, beech, sweet gum, and mulberry (many draped with berry vines), as well as various species of oaks, hickories, and magnolias.
Of note, membership in the American Conifer Society has resulted in the planting of more than 350 varieties of conifers, concentrated in four different locations. Also featured is a large collection of hollies. The plantings are complimented by prominently sited stainless steel, bronze, and stone sculptures, as well as hundreds of feet of iron rails crafted by the master blacksmith John Medwedeff. GATOP, given its horticultural and historic features, in 2007, it became one of over 5,000 gardens listed in the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Gardens. GATOP has provided its dwellers and many visitors a place to enjoy and appreciate nature and, most importantly, has served as an abiding source of serenity and spiritual renewal; furthermore, it will endure as the University of Tennessee GATOP Arboretum & Education Center and be part of the State of Tennessee Botanical Gardens.
Open Days 2021: Saturday, October 2 POSTPONED to 2022 (DATE TBD)
- Partial wheelchair access