A gardener wearing a wide-brimmed hat has just mulched an intricately designed outdoor bed and is gently sweeping excess mulch off the interconnected walkways in short soft strokes. When visiting a public garden, it’s always the attention to detail that converts the landscape from interesting and fun to spectacular. The gardener who painstakingly cleaned those paths is a perfect indication of what the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio, is all about. I visited on a muggy morning in July. With just three hours to run through and explore one of my favorite places, I had to hustle. Thankfully I know the garden, as it was my third visit over the past 10 years.
At each turn there’s something special, whether it’s huge containers filled with hydrangeas or a quiet respite sitting in the Bride’s Garden surrounded by white flowers.
Plan on spending most of the day exploring the gardens. (I wish I would have had more time, but I made the most of my short visit.)
There’s no way to talk about the summer garden here without gushing over “Chihuly Celebrating Nature,” the latest show at the conservatory from glass artist Dale Chihuly. The gardens without Chihuly are wonderful; with the art they are elevated to a new exquisite level.
In the Sculpture Garden, standing in the shadow of the ‘Lime Green Icicle Tower,’ afternoon sun reveals texture and shimmering color through translucent colored glass.
One part of ‘Garden Fiori’ (Italian for flowers) is a flame-orange artistic representation of flowers set ablaze by the light streaming through the artwork. Hakonechloa grass softens the transition from garden bed to sidewalk, falling perfectly over the cement walkway that leads toward a glass shop where demonstrations on making beautiful glassworks, reminiscent of Chihuly’s, are made in front of visitors.
The shaped glass ‘Blue Herons’ standing motionless in the Pacific Island Water Garden are enjoyed this day by a mother and her two children. Behind them, a 170-year-old bonsai tree amazes visitors who marvel at its age. Standing alone on the Zen Terrace walking around ‘Red Reeds & Sunset Sprays’ is an awesome site. Chihuly’s glass art is on display throughout the gardens.
Pure white hydrangeas fill huge square wooden containers sharing space with other interesting potted plants on the Zen Terrace. The containers throughout the landscape are one of those details that make the garden shine. They are architectural wonders, each one a work of art and fun to thoroughly examine.
On this day the conservatory is filled with groups of kids, the next generation of garden lovers. A little girl runs excitingly into the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden and is greeted by a shower of water.
Some of the most interesting sections of the garden for me are the public outdoor spaces that are expansive and quiet. It’s one of my favorite parts of the landscape, walking past a rainbow of daylilies and the conifer and ornamental collections.
Entering the Ingram-White Castle Foundation Pollinators Garden, a robin is taking a bath in a ground level fountain that softly sends water over what looks like a small millstone. Butterflies feed on black eyed Susans, and tiny bees frantically scamper around the globular flowers of blue globe thistle. A community vegetable garden is filled with deep green tomato plants and a plethora of other plants. Handicapped accessible beds, giant containers with huge tropical hibiscus and red petunias overflowing the edges, a celebration of compost and much more fills the outdoor space.
I first visited on my birthday a decade ago. A pretty yellow vase was made in the glass shop as we watched. While returning home, my wife wondered out loud if I should see if I could buy it. I called and worked out a deal. A few days later I had a memory of this wonderful garden that now sits on a mantle in our dining room. This time of the year is filled with lilies, zinnias and other cut flowers, evoking memories of a beautiful day and wonderful gardens.
A trip to Columbus to see this garden will fill you with ideas for your space and joy, too. Time with the Chihuly art will also make you smile the whole way home.
Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or email@example.com. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.
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