Knoxville’s Green Drinks Garden

According to a recent Congressional Research Service overview of the craft alcoholic beverage industry in the United States, there were nearly 17,000 businesses producing craft beer, spirits, and wine in 2017. The $31 billion industry is a hit with consumers, especially those who are quick to buy small-batch products and support local businesses – but unless those drinks are made with something like beard-cultivated yeast or squid ink, the majority of craft beverage enthusiasts probably don’t spend too much time pondering the origin or history of their ingredients.

That’s something the Knoxville Botanical Garden & Arboretum (KBGA) is hoping to change with a new garden designed to educate visitors about hops, grapes, and other ingredients that are brewed, distilled, and fermented. We spoke to Amanda Spangler, KBGA’s director of horticulture, to learn more about the upcoming Green Drinks Garden and the support the project has received from the local beverage industry.

Green Drinks Garden Render

A rendering of the Green Drinks Garden, courtesy of the KBGA.

Historical Horticulture & Botanical Brews

Spangler expects the Green Drinks Garden to debut Spring 2019, but the idea first took root in May 2017, when members of the Green Drinks organization – an international group with local chapters that host “informal sessions” for “people who work in the environmental field” – held their monthly meeting at the Knoxville Botanical Garden. After Spangler’s presentation and a conversation about the agriculture of alcohol, the group suggested the KBGA build an educational garden to share that history with other visitors.

“Of course, it’s not as easy as just going out and building a garden,” says Spangler. “I had to put together a proposal, and I submitted that to our executive director. He approved it, and we brought it to the building and grounds committee, which brought it to our board of directors, which brought it to our development committee.”

After that exhaustive process, the KBGA team began fundraising by partnering with many business and industry professionals who Spangler says have been crucial to the garden’s development.

“I’m not an expert on Knoxville’s local beer and other beverages industry, so we have some folks that have taken a lot of their own time and expertise to advise and guide this project,” says Spangler. “One of them is Ryan Steffy, the manager over at SoKno Taco Cantina, [who] put us in touch with Nate Hardin of Eagle Distributing. This distributing company distributes a lot of the Knoxville brews, and so he had connections with a lot of breweries. Then John Pfohl [has also] been really helpful in connecting us with different groups. We couldn’t have done this without Ryan, Nate, and John.”

Fundraising for the Green Drinks Garden project has also been supported by a dozen or so local businesses, including craft distillery and cocktail bar PostModern Spirits, craft beer store and taproom Hops and Hollers, and beer market and humidor Merchants of Beer. Some businesses have hosted percentage nights, while others are donating portions of the proceeds from cans of Blackhorse Brewery‘s Botanical Brew, a German-style kolsch.

At the time of our interview, the KBGA team had already begun mulching the garden space, the pergola – constructed to support hops and grapes – had been erected, and Spangler was busy finalizing the plant order for trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. While their current timeline calls for planting everything by the end of April 2019, the garden’s patio will likely take a bit longer to complete and require additional fundraising.

“We’re hoping to do an attractive permeable paver patio that allows for some drainage [because] it’s a more environmentally friendly option,” says Spangler. “We’re hoping to unveil the garden by the last weekend in April, which coincidentally [is when] we’re also hoping to have our first beer festival, so we’ll use that as a backdrop for the festival. We’ll have Knox-area breweries, distilleries, and hopefully a local winery come out and educate folks about their businesses and their process [to help visitors] make that connection between the plants that are growing in the garden and the concoctions in their cups.”

As with every permanent garden space the KBGA adds, the Green Drinks Garden is designed to tell a story. Although it will be able to produce some ingredients that may actually be harvested for small-batch production in the future, this garden is primarily being cultivated as an educational space that tells the story of a flourishing local industry.

“Every plant is going to have a label, and the beds are going to be laid out geographically – not by where the plants are native to, but where in the world that plant was first fermented or distilled,” says Spangler. “I really do think this is going to be a feather in Knoxville’s cap and something that sets us apart from public gardens in other areas of the world.”

About the KBGA

The KBGA is a nonprofit public garden in East Knoxville, situated on 47 acres of land owned by the Howell family since the 1780s. Established in 2001, the KBGA works to preserve the Howell family’s legacy and protect the land’s gardens and outdoor spaces, which include flower beds, stone terraces, a nature trail, and the Center for Urban Agriculture.

“The Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum is completely free and open to the public every day of the year from sunrise to sunset,” says Spangler. “We are not run by the City of Knoxville or Knox County. We’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, so we’re completely supported by the generosity of the people who love us – people who attend our fundraisers, who donate to the gardens, our corporate sponsors, and most of all, our garden members.”

Thanks to the American Horticultural Society’s reciprocal admission program, members gain admission to the KBGA and more than 300 other participating public gardens and arboretums across the country.

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in English. Passionate about Marvel Comics, Critical Role, and all things geeky, she spends her free time playing tabletop and video games, collecting beer caps from craft breweries around the country, and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.

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