One big challenge for gardeners is to visualize how plants will look when they grow up. Having a good mental picture of a mature perennial, shrub or tree helps you plant it in the right spot. Seeing mature landscapes in every season also helps you find new and interesting plants for your own garden. Simply looking at your neighbor’s yards won’t show you a big enough variety.
That’s why it’s so interesting and helpful to visit arboretums and botanical gardens. An arboretum is a park-like setting where a large variety of plants is installed for educational purposes. You can see what trees and shrubs look like when they grow up, and visualize which plants would be the best for your own landscape. Each plant is labeled, and combined with other plants that go well together.
Arboretums and show gardens make great day trips, and there are quite a few good ones in southwest Ohio. Here are some favorites:
SPRING GROVE CEMETERY: In addition to being a resting place for the departed, Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati is a world-class arboretum with over 1,200 flowering trees and shrubs. The many ponds throughout the grounds are beautiful places to linger at any time of year. Take an hour and drive through Spring Grove next time you’re in Cincinnati. Admission is free, and you can see quite a bit without ever leaving the comfort of your car. http://www.springgrove.org
CINCINNATI ZOO & BOTANICAL GARDENS: During the summer months, when their impressive show gardens are at their peak, there is a massive display of color throughout the Zoo grounds. Annual flowers and grasses, perennials, trees and shrubs are combined in imaginative ways. The displays serve as a real-life test garden where flowers are evaluated for performance and ease of maintenance.
Every year the Zoo plants over 20,000 annual bedding plants in order to test new varieties. Plants are labeled so you can learn as you explore. There are many interesting grasses, mature shrubs, a butterfly garden, a Japanese shade garden, a mature Bamboo grove and other exhibits. Hardscape walls and pavers, water features, decks, fences and bridges set off the plants. Moving water is everywhere, and lots of shady spots to relax and cool off. The parking areas feature drought-tolerant landscape plantings. http://cincinnatizoo.org/horticulture/
MOUNT AIRY FOREST: The nation’s largest municipal park, Mount Airy has more than one million trees across approximately 1,500 acres. The grounds include rolling hills, valleys, streams, gardens, woods and wildlife, and display magnolias, azaleas, lilacs, dwarf conifers, rhododendrons and perennial gardens. Reflecting the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, the park buildings include picnic shelters and a handicapped accessible treehouse. www.cincinnatiparks.com/mt-airy-forest
CHADWICK ARBORETUM: On the OSU campus in Columbus, Chadwick Arboretum features a mix of constant color throughout the year. OSU has a trial garden for annual flowers, which sorts the really good annual flowers from the merely average. There is a vegetable garden designed for handicapped access and horticultural therapy. Other projects include a “green roof”, literally a rooftop garden providing live insulation winter and summer. Nearby Lane Avenue Gardens is an extensive tree planting with a “labyrinth”; a paved walk similar to a maze but with no wrong turns or dead ends. Arboretum North across the street is the newest section, and features sixty varieties of willow. It is known for good bird-watching despite its location in the heart of Columbus. www.chadwickarboretum.osu.edu.
DAWES ARBORETUM: Begun in 1929, this 1800 acre Columbus arboretum is a showcase of plant collections and educational experiences, including a cypress swamp, Japanese Bonsai Garden, crabapples, conifers, oaks, azaleas and hollies. Drive the five-mile auto route or walk more than eight miles of hiking trails. www.dawesarb.org
COX ARBORETUM: With 189 acres of gardens and nature, Cox Arboretum in Dayton is a hands-on adventure in horticulture. Highlights include The Edible Landscape garden, Butterfly Meadow and House, Shrub Garden with more than 500 different trees & shrubs, Water Garden & Rock Garden, Wildflower Garden, and 3.5 miles of walking trails. www.metroparks.org/Parks/CoxArboretum
WEGERZYN GARDENS: in Southwest Ohio is home to the Wegerzyn Gardens and Horticulture Center, one of the Miami Valley’s Five Rivers Metroparks, features Victorian, English, Federal and Children’s Rose gardens, a boardwalk overlooking rivers and forest, a scenic river bikeway and a learning center. One of the main attractions is the Children’s Discovery Garden, which includes a preschool area, two ponds, individual garden plots, wildlife area, perennial and rock gardens. There is a Reception Lawn amidst a wall of pine trees, and a nature trail. The learning center offers help with home landscaping, gardening and floral craft making. www.metroparks.org/wegerzyn
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.