Great Ohio Road Trips: Gardens
Our state’s variety of botanical gardens and arboreta offers the chance to reconnect
with nature and see plant species from around the world.
Elmore > Columbus > Newark > Cleveland > Kirtland — 320 miles
The Buckeye State is home to vast arboreta and beautiful botanical gardens that show off not only Ohio’s natural side but also plant species from around the globe. Once spring hits full stride, a trip across the state brings sights ranging from tropical butterflies to flowering cherry trees. It’s enough to make a botanist’s brain tingle, but exploring such places also allows parents to educate their little ones. From sprawling woodlands to indoor re-creations of environments from the other side of the world, these destinations shine a light on Earth’s vast diversity of plant life.
1. Schedel Arboretum and Gardens: Visitors to Elmore’s Schedel Arboretum and Gardens will find Chinese elm and Japanese larch trees in addition to Yoshino cherry trees (one of the few places you'll find them outside of Japan) at the former estate of Joe and Marie Schedel. The couple collected specimens during their travels, and some of the finds here have even surprised professional horticulturalists, says Rod Noble, executive director of Schedel Arboretum and Gardens. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, well that can’t be a mugo pine tree,’ ” he explains. “And they’ll look closer and say, ‘Well, I’ll be darned.’ ” 19255 W. Portage River S. Rd., Elmore 43416, 419/862-3182, schedel-gardens.org
2. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: In addition to the beautiful glass artwork of Dale Chihuly, 88 acres of outdoor gardens and the iconic John F. Wolfe Palm House, visitors get a flavor for Ohio’s landscape at the 2-acre Scotts Miracle-Gro Children’s Garden. Kids can explore areas that mimic Ohio wetlands and the Hocking Hills. The garden’s designer, Garet Martin, says the aim is to open kids’ eyes to the natural beauty surrounding them. “The majority of kids nowadays, there’s a lot of that screen time,” he says. “But there’s not enough of that green time, you know?” 1777 E. Broad St., Columbus 43203, 614/715-8000, fpconservatory.org
3. The Dawes Arboretum: Besides spotting flowering star magnolias and eastern redbuds, visitors to Newark’s 2,000-acre arboretum are encouraged to venture paved and unpaved trails that cover 12 miles and cross eight distinct areas ranging from woodlands and meadows to a Japanese garden and cypress swamp. The arboretum is a year-round attraction, too, inviting travelers to see the collection as it changes with the seasons. “I like to say, ‘There’s no bad weather,’ ” says Abbie Wilson, the arboretum’s director of education. “It’s all about the right attitude.” 7770 Jacksontown Rd., Newark 43056, 740/323-2355, dawesarb.org
4. Cleveland Botanical Garden: This University Circle neighborhood attraction is known for its indoor biomes of the Spiny Desert of Madagascar and the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica as well as its 10 acres of outdoor gardens. But it’s known for one other thing as well: butterflies. In addition to daily 2 p.m. butterfly releases, the botanical garden is hosting its inaugural Amazing Butterflies event March 23 through April 28, with more than 250 pupas set to hatch per week. “We’ll take them right out of the bag and place them on our guests’ hands, and they’ll flutter off,” says Brian Gibbons, a horticulturist at the garden. 11030 East Blvd., Cleveland 44106, 216/721-1600, cbgarden.org
5. Holden Arboretum: Among the 250 plant species botanist Charles Dexter donated to the arboretum in the early 20th century, about one-fifth were specially bred rhododendrons. Today, the 3,500-acre attraction is home to a growing collection of new rhododendron breeds among its forests and gardens. “High shade trees, the bright colors reflected in Heath Pond,” says Forests & Gardens editor Kait Anastis, when asked about some of her favorite arboretum sights. “Oh, and seeing the occasional blacksnake.” Don’t miss the Murch Canopy Walk and Kalberer Family Emergent Tower, which offer visitors great views. 9550 Sperry Rd., Kirtland 44094, 440/946-4400, holdenarb.org
State Parks on the Water | Minor League Ballparks | Adams County Quilt Barns | Antique Superstores | Gardens | Retro Diners | College-Town Eats | Quirky Museums | Night Skies