Help Curious Nashville: Tell Us What You Know About This Urban Garden | Nashville Public Radio

Help Curious Nashville: Tell Us What You Know About This Urban Garden

Aug 13, 2019

If there’s an unexpected place to find a courtyard garden in Nashville, it’s along First Avenue in downtown. Despite the riverfront access, this is a gritty street with the sensibility of an alley — where businesses have packages delivered and where a row of touristy bars keep their smelly trash cans.

No one really spends much time back there.

But Curious Nashville listener Joe Pagetta caught a glimpse and wondered:

There is a really lovely gated courtyard garden on First Avenue near Church Street, across from Fort Nashboro. What’s its story? Who maintains it?

This garden isn’t some small patch of grass. Behind an iron gate, it grows between two brick buildings, embellishing a paved patio and stairs. On that block, the garden carves out the only gap in what is otherwise a solid row of red-brick facades.

The garden seems like a place to enjoy a cup of coffee, or host a party. But it’s also littered with trash, broken bottles and crushed cans, and overrun by weeds.

It leads you to wonder if the garden was ever maintained.

Learning about the garden’s history and upkeep hasn’t been easy. After several weeks of inquiries, Curious Nashville is sharing its progress and putting out a public call for more information.

City Records Shine Some Light

Property records, permits and Google Maps have helped fill in some details.

The four-story building that encompasses the garden was built in 1882. At the time, it was primarily used as office space for a few businesses. There was no residential space. And there’s no mention of a space for a garden, nor an indication of it on maps.

The building surrounding the garden was built in 1882, according to city records.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

After 1975, there isn’t much going on in the building. A few businesses have occupied the space. At one point, there was a sports bar. 

Right now, on the Second Avenue side of the building, you can enjoy a game of laser tag. But the employees of Laser Quest had no details about the garden out back.

Over several weeks, calls to the building’s owners have gone unanswered. The company has held the property since 2005.

Images from Google Maps do tell a bit of a story. 

In the years before the current ownership, the garden was maintained pretty well. It was clean, weeded, and flowers blossomed. After 2006, however, the garden starts to decline. Each year, more vines grow, more trash accumulates, and the flowers lose their foothold. 

One bright spot came in 2013. Metro issued a permit to clean around the garden, add new gutters and remove trash. 

WPLN also inquired about this plot with the Master Gardeners of Davidson County.

“The fact that there is a garden there is news to me,” said group president Alisa Huntsman. “If you would not mind letting us know, that would be great.”

So in this case, the question stands: What’s the story of this courtyard garden, and who maintains it?

A padlock secures the courtyard garden near the corner of First Avenue and Gay Street in downtown Nashville.
Credit Alana Watson / WPLN