American Dogwood (Cornus florida) is perhaps one of the most loved and well-known trees in the U.S. Originally native to a majority of the eastern seaboard and stretching into the Midwest, the diminutive tree has expanded its range tremendously due to its popularity in garden landscapes. This is in large part to the large bracts which surround its rather inconspicuous blooms. Normally a brilliant white, gardeners have developed new varieties which range from a soft pink to brilliant red. In addition to its springtime show, the dogwood’s dramatic fall colors provide yet another excuse to fill our neighborhood with them.
We love our dogwoods so much, there are multiple festivals devoted to them across the region, with some of the best being the Atlanta and Fayetteville Dogwood Festivals. By far the biggest and best, however, is Tennessee’s own Dogwood Arts Festival. While the others may only last a few days, the event in Knoxville runs throughout the entire month of April and features a plethora of activities, driving trails, and art exhibits. This year marked the 57th anniversary of the annual show.
Yes, we realize April is over and the dogwoods are now green, but that doesn’t mean its too late to plan for next year! Time after time we’ve seen the flyers for different events or noticed the pink stripes winding through Knoxville neighborhoods that mark the dogwood trails’ paths, but we never actually stopped to take part in everything offered by this unique festival. What could be so exciting about it?
While the main event has been around for nearly six decades, the famous dogwood trails which are an integral part of the festival came several years earlier. This was due to beautification efforts on the part of the Knoxville Garden Club, who were a little more than angry after a famous news reporter of the day referred to Knoxville as “ugliest city in all of America.” 1955 saw the first trail open in the historic Sequoyah Hills neighborhood immediately to the west of the University of Tennessee. More trails soon sprang up in Holston Hills and Fountain City was the popularity increased. Thousands of dogwood trees later, the first annual festival kicked off in 1961, and it has only grown each year.
Today, the festival attracts upwards of a quarter million visitors who come to enjoy the live entertainment, art shows, great food, and of course, the springtime blooms. For those who want to enjoy the outdoors, many of the eighty-five miles of dogwood trails wind through beautiful neighborhoods and are easily explored on foot. Some, such as the Sequoyah Hills, also run along city greenways, allowing a much more intimate experience. A newer portion of the festival, Bikes and Blooms, encourages visitors to cycle along the easier routes. Guided tours are offered several times throughout the month of April and into May as well. Several public and private gardens are included in the festival as well, including Founders Park, Hays Garden, and the private gardens of Dr. Alan Solomon and Eddie Mannis.
Covenant Health teamed up with the festival to also offer guided hikes and walks throughout Knoxville’s parklands as well as some of the regional outdoor destinations. Missy Kane led hikes at East Lakeshore Trail in Tellico, the Knoxville Arboretum, and Obed Wild and Scenic River. Other hikes explored state parks such as Norris Dam and Panther Creek, area greenways, and several trails in the Smokies as well.
Each weekend during the festival usually sees an event take place, with one of the most popular being Rhythm N Blooms Music Festival. Stretching from April 6th to the 8th, a plethora of acts took to the stage indoors and out across the Old City to bring the newest music from the best local and regional artists. Perhaps one of the most popular events during the Dogwood Arts Festival is the Chalk Walk. This year’s took place on the 21st and saw the sidewalks of Market Square erupt into a kaleidoscope of colors. Budding artists are invited to join in the fun and apply for their own chunk of sidewalk where they can express their skills while also competing for prizes.
The final weekend of the festival sees Market Square and several blocks of downtown transform into a beehive of activity as vendors, art booths, and live performances crowd the streets. Juried artists not only compete, but visitors have the chance to watch them create their crafts and even take the finished products and artwork home. Blooming Boulevard becomes a marketplace for visitors to purchase some dogwoods of their own, along with thousands of other blooming plants, herbs, and trees. Kids can enjoy a children’s stage where puppet shows and circus performances take place throughout the day, along with a creation station where they can get in on the action and make their own pieces of art. Of course, don’t forget about the food, with local eateries such as Holy Smokin BBQ, From Scratch, and Quick Fix Coffee offering a taste of local EastTennessee cuisine.
To make plans for next year and find out more information, visit www.dogwoodarts.com.