When you think of Cleveland you might not picture lush and beautiful gardens—after all, the city was highly industrial during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But as it grew into a modern metropolis, Cleveland earned its “Forest City” nickname as civic leaders and industrialists set aside parkland and peaceful spaces, including a major swath of green donated in 1897 by Clevelander John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil. Today, the city and its Northeast Ohio surroundings have several places where you can stop and smell the flowers: You might even find inspiration for your home garden. Here are some of our favorite spots:
1. Cleveland Cultural Gardens
Along Martin Luther King Boulevard and East Boulevard in Rockefeller Park, Cleveland; (216) 220-3075.
Located in 254-acre Rockefeller Park just north of University Circle, this 33-garden collection isn’t just about pretty plantings. The gardens (the first was planted in 1916 and more are planned) pay tribute to Cleveland’s ethnically diverse immigrant populations. They are places to wander, contemplate, and learn. Amid the trees, shrubbery, and flowers, you’ll discover statues, plaques, and replicas of sacred objects that tell the stories of statesmen, artists, and other cultural luminaries. Learn about composer Frédéric Chopin in the Polish garden and poet William Butler Yeats in the Irish garden. Local cultural organizations tend the plantings.
2. The Fine Arts Garden, Cleveland Museum of Art
11130 East Boulevard (off Euclid Avenue), Cleveland; (216) 421-7350.
In Cleveland’s bustling East Side, this park was created as a gateway to the impressive neoclassical edifice of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Ten years after the museum opened in 1916, the Garden Club of Cleveland, composed of the elite of Cleveland society, hired the Olmsted Brothers (of New York City’s Central Park fame) to tame an undeveloped area. The resulting formal landscape has broad lawns, a monumental fountain (by American sculptor Chester Beach), statues, walkways, and marble benches. Canada geese sometimes hang out in the large Wade Lagoon, which reflects flowering cherry and other canopy trees. The park remains a favorite of locals seeking a quiet escape.
3. Cleveland Botanical Garden
11030 East Boulevard, Cleveland; (216) 721-1600.
Opened as the United States’ first civic garden center in 1930, the Cleveland Botanical Garden moved to its current location in the 1960s. The 10-acre outdoor area (its indoor Glasshouse features displays from Madagascar and Costa Rica) is set up by theme. The Restorative Garden, with reflecting pool, is filled with calming greenery and scents such as lavender and mint. The Kitchen Garden, one of several Inspiration Gardens, will tantalize foodies. Daffodils are the May highlight in the Perennial Garden; other favorites include the fantastical Topiary Garden and the serene Japanese Garden.
4. The Holden Arboretum
9550 Sperry Road, Kirtland, Ohio; (440) 946-4400.
Mining executive Albert Fairchild Holden donated land in the countryside about 30 miles northeast of Cleveland for the Holden Arboretum to memorialize his young daughter. Celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, the preserve has since grown to about 3,500 acres in Lake and Geauga counties. The grounds include forests, ponds, and lakes, as well as 200 acres that are dedicated to cultivated gardens and special collections. The arboretum is open year-round, with a spring-summer highlight being more than 24 acres of rhododendrons, located in two gardens. Photographers gravitate toward the Lotus and Lilly ponds and the nearby 350 lilac plants that bloom in spring. Head to the native pawpaw tree patch to view hundreds of Ohio wildflowers.
5. Gardenview Horticultural Park
16711 Pearl Road, Strongsville, Ohio; (440) 238-6653.
In Strongsville, a suburb about 20 miles southwest of Cleveland, visitors who pass through a gate next to a strip mall might be surprised to find a cottage-style English garden that features an arboretum and plentiful plants and flowers. Gardenview was the passion project of World War II veteran Henry Ross, who borrowed money at age 23 to buy a 16-acre plot of run-down farmland to prepare his dream garden. His lifelong pursuit of natural beauty (Ross died in 2014) became a nonprofit park, complete with a staff plant specialist and dedicated volunteers. The impressive collection shows off Ross’ fascination with variegated plants and rare and unusual species such as silver-leaved Chinese forget-me-not and gold-leaved dawn redwood.
6. Historical Rose Garden at Lakeview Park
1800 W. Erie Avenue, Lorain, Ohio; (440) 245-1193.
On Lake Erie, about 30 miles west of Cleveland, Lakeview Park has a beach, a bathhouse, and beautiful views of a 1917 lighthouse. The attraction for flower lovers is a rose garden created nearly 90 years ago by 17 community organizations, including the local Rotary Club, whose recognizable wheel-and-spoke emblem inspired the garden’s design. Walkways connect the 48 rose beds. Although a wet spring and dry summer wiped out some of the bushes in 2020, the more than 1,750 that remain should assure colorful displays.
Cleveland-based Fran Golden is an award-winning travel journalist whose work regularly appears in such leading publications as Travel and Leisure. She is the author of numerous cruise and travel books including the upcoming 100 Things to Do in Alaska Before You Die (Reedy Press).
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.
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