Dr. Alan Solomon can’t help but smile when he talks about his garden, but GATOP is not your average hobby garden. It’s an 18-acre wooded paradise awash in botanical gems, unique sculpture, beautiful vistas and rich, local history. But perhaps the garden’s best story is Solomon’s own, that spiritual link to the land he’s come to love.
GATOP stands for God’s Answer to Our Prayers, and Solomon gave the garden that moniker in honor of Lloyd and Virginia Pease, from whom he bought the property in 1971. The two came to Knoxville from Chattanooga in 1941 and prayed to find a home with views of the mountains and water. They found just that, but the garden is also an answer to Solomon’s own prayers.
“I grew up in the Bronx and never saw a tree,” he said. When he was 8 years old, his attorney father took him to a Westchester farm to visit a client. Solomon loved it.
“As we left, I stood outside and said, ‘When I grow up, I want to live in a place where I can’t see anybody, with a house made of wood, and lots of dogs running around,” he said.
Solomon moved to Knoxville as a research oncologist at UT Medical Center. He lived in West Knoxville, and after a divorce he started searching for a new home. He saw an ad for “the most beautiful place east of the Mississippi.” He fell in love with the property and bought it. Over the years, he added terraced gardens that meld perfectly into the wooded landscape, laying the stone walls with his own hands and with help from professionals.
“I say I’m a stonemason and my hobby was medicine,” he said.
There is something in bloom in GATOP almost year-round, and the garden showcases Solomon’s special interest in conifers, with more than 350 varieties spread throughout, including a rare Dawn Redwood.
Sculptures and water features accent the garden, as do nods to the property’s history. One of three houses on the property was built more than 120 years ago by Fillmore Morgan, whose job it was to collect and dispose of dead horses in Knoxville. The area where Mr. Morgan buried the horses is now graced with a memorial to their memory.
The Stone House is a 1934 home with walls of locally quarried marble, and the Main House, where Solomon lives with wife Andrea Cartwright, was designed in the Arts and Crafts style by architect and former Knoxville City Council member Duane Grieve.
At the bottom of the property sits what remains of Morrow’s Quarry, originally owned by Tennessee Marble Company, where hewn stone slabs and historic markings may still be seen.
This masterpiece garden is normally closed to public use, Solomon’s own private sanctuary and labor of love. For him, it is a chance to slow down, enjoy nature and develop “a kinship with the Earth.” It also reflects the concept of tikkun olam from his Jewish faith, he said.
“It means healing the world,” he said. “Heal and improve the world. We can make a difference, each person. It was in my medical practice, too, helping people through difficult times. Whatever you believe in, if you’re in an environment like this, it has a very profound effect on a person.”
And this spring, for the third year in a row, Solomon will open GATOP to the public as a Dogwood Arts Featured Garden. Visitors will be welcomed for self-guided tours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 14, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 15.
He hopes visitors will enjoy GATOP’s reverential, spiritual nature, and maybe find things they would like to add to their own gardens.
“The terrible thing in people’s lives today, they’re constantly running and running,” Solomon said. “But one of the things people have said, this place is spiritual and reverential. I had no plan to do that. If somebody had said you are going to build a spiritual sanctuary, I would have said you’re crazy.”
For information, visit www.dogwoodarts.com/2017-featured-gardens/.