I was walking the red brick sidewalks of Germantown near downtown Columbus, OH when I stopped mid-step. Before me, evidence of a passionate plants person appeared. Gardeners can’t hide their enthusiasm for life, they reveal themselves, with flowering vines leaking out through the fence,
I arrived on Mackinac Island for the 70th annual Lilac festival in June 2018. The ferry ride takes about 30 minutes to reach the island and it was a blue sky, puffy white cloud day with calm waters day.
“a landscape of a painting of a landscape”
Wander into the painting
Topiary Park in Columbus Ohio is an amazing landscape. It is in the words of its creator, James T Mason, “a landscape of a painting of a landscape. … If an artist can paint a picture of a landscape — art mimicking nature — then why not a sculptor creating a landscape of a work of art — nature mimicking art? The topiary garden is both a work of art and a work of nature.”
For the past month, I have been on a long road trip driving highways in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and western New York. The long distances of highways are tunnels of green with tall maples and soaring oaks on either side. The view is occasionally broken up by homesites of impressive farms with huge barns and fields of green. I’m looking for gardens along the way.
Fellow garden lover Curtis Siller recently traveled to Minneapolis and while there visited Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and he offers this visit.
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (MLA), in Chaska, recently won top spot in the “Best Botanical Garden in the United States” contest by USA Today. MLA covers more than 1,200 acres of gardens, woods and prairies, showcasing over 5,000 plant species. It displays flowering shrubs, trees and plants, interspersed with sculpture,places for meditation and reflection, and special exhibitions. An adjoining building contains a horticultural library and conservatory.
I’ve traveled cross-country from Arizona to Indiana and back multiple times over the years and each time the goal is to find a different way to explore. If your travels find you driving through the heart of this country, Powell Gardens or Wichita in Kansas are excellent stops. In Illinois, Allerton Park or the Champaign Prairie Walk are great for stretching your legs. If you take a southern route don’t miss both the Dallas and & Ft. Worth Gardens in Texas, or in Missouri the Botanical Garden in St. Louis. However, I would propose there is no prettier mid-point stop in a drive across the continental US than Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha Nebraska. Located along the Missouri River where the soil is rich and fertile, gardeners have worked magic in 20 thematic spaces.
This month begins the ninth year of A Traveling Gardener, wandering, wondering, noticing. . . and I want to thank all of my readers who have been encouraging, interested, and appreciative of my garden stories. I hope you have been inspired to visit more gardens when you travel. I went into my archives and found the first story of exploring the world through gardens. My enthusiasm has only increased as I travel to these wonderful places. I am sharing that original article with you and including update resources for finding gardens all over the world.
Reporting from Iowa
This just in, Iowa has beautiful gardens and parks, with grand trees, roses, hostas, and lakes. Despite the frenzy of Iowa’s political caucuses happy people are ice skating on the lagoon in Vander Veer Botanical Park and Conservatory in Davenport.
The road trip has long held a certain mystique in the stories of summer travels. Driving across the US is a narrative of many movies, novels and personal nostalgia. You might see a corn palace in South Dakota, the largest ball of twine in Cawker, KS, or if you are really lucky a community point of pride in Lincoln, Nebraska, their Sunken Garden. This garden was built by the local community employing men in need of work in the early 1930’s. The land once used by children for sledding in the winter and for a garbage dump in the summer was donated by two local families for the city project. A natural low spot was shaped into a terraced amphitheater designed for trees, shrubs and thousands of plants. It has generated admiration from the surrounding communities. When it opened it created such a response to its beauty that communities nearby Lincoln sent representatives to view the garden and to obtain plant lists so local gardeners could attempt to replicate some of the beauty in their own gardens. The setting is a sunken 1.5 acre lot at the corner of 27th & Capital Parkway. Visitors walk down from street level into a network of paths winding past beds of flowers, and ponds with waterfalls. The design of the garden is changed each year based on a theme chosen to direct the plantings. “Garden themes have included Tropicalismo, Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, Hachimaki – a stylized Japanese headband, ‘Power of the Peacock’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Solar Flair’.” (Lincoln Parks & Recreation) From the theme to the design layout this is a composition of plants intended to paint a picture. The plants are chosen to thrive in the Nebraska summer heat and rain. The summer I visited the inspiration was a symphonic orchestration. The design represented the four movements of a classical symphony, the fast allegro, the slow largo, the minute medium paced and returning to allegro. The results were a rhythmic spacing of plants placed to move the viewer emotionally and physically as you walk from bed to bed. On a cool, overcast August morning I walked into a symphony of intense colors. Rhythmic plantings of chartreuse, silver, and purple foliage with blooms in shades of pink, burgundy, and white filled the hillside beds. There are a large number of tropical plants, such as cannas, bananas, and elephant ear which can handle the wet soil in the bowl shape of the garden. Begonias, sweet potato vines petunias, dusty miller, vinca, lantana and coleus all are chosen to complete the color palette. Several mothers strolled through with their children. Sheer joy was on their little faces as they ran from flower to flower sticking their noses into blooms to smell the fragrance, then rushing to the lily ponds full of koi, bending over to look eye to eye at the gold fish. Everything was exciting in this beautiful place. A busy damsel fly elicited a shriek of surprise as it flew among the papyrus, lotus, lilies and horsetail reeds. A large group of sorority sisters posed for group photos, their colorful clothes complementing the flowers. The garden is the site of hundreds of photos for seniors, family reunions, weddings and happy travelers every year. Gardens bring people together. It struck me that in the center of the country a community made a commitment to create beauty simply for all people to enjoy. It is a statement for public good in a world which seems so continually conflicted and angry. The garden is managed by the City of Lincoln Parks and Recreation department but it relies on passionate community of gardeners to volunteer for a series of work sessions to keep the garden beautiful. In mid-May there is the “Wake up the Beds” event. Here the work involves turning the soil, adding amendments and summer planting. The event draws as many as 125 volunteers of all ages to help plant the 30,000 annuals. Many volunteers are Master Gardeners and others just budding gardeners. The excitement of creating such beauty is not limited to this one day as the gardeners return throughout the season to see how their plants are doing. There is ownership and pride in what has been created. Garden Gab is a weekly Tuesday and Thursday meet up to touch up and spruce up the plants during the growing season. The city garden staff provide gardening lessons the volunteers can apply in their own flower beds. The first Saturday of November is the “Put the Beds to Bed” event and the spent annuals are pulled, beds composted and planting of bulbs for the spring. The garden season ends and winter arrives, yet the promise of spring brings a display of favorites with tulips and daffodils. This is an outstandingly beautiful garden. Driving cross country shows us a beautiful landscape of great variety. Finding gardens along the way is the best possible road trip.
In all my wandering through beautiful gardens I never expected to see a row of military tanks landscaped with potted plants. A collection of 11 army tanks ranging from a 1917 WWI vehicle to the Abrahams tank of Desert Storm line up as if ready for inspection. The big guns now silent, sit under the shade of large oak trees. In Catigny Park, 30 miles west of Chicago, there is just such a scene. It startled me. It made me stop, sit down and think about military equipment in a beautiful garden. But then the profit of travel and exploring gardens is learning and here I had much to learn.