Local Gardeners Refine Their Craft at Chadwick Arboretum

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Since its establishment in 1980, the Chadwick Arboretum & Learning Gardens has matured into a 60-acre urban green reserve. Located on the Ohio State University campus, the arboretum is home to more than 1,000 trees and a diverse landscape of plant and flower collections; the sights, sounds and smells of the sprawling reserve make it a go-to spot for visitors year-round.

The Learning Gardens, located south of Woody Hayes Drive, are made up of extensive plant collections featuring an assortment of annuals, perennials and ephemerals that provide rich colors no matter the season. The wide assortment of plant species, such as the Siberian bugloss with its silver leaves and blue flower clusters, will give any garden enthusiast plenty of inspiration.

As the name suggests, the Learning Gardens act as an outdoor laboratory used by horticulture, landscape architecture, entomology and plant pathology students for research and education.

Find a seat inside the gazebo amid the blue, purple and pink flowering perennials, and don't forget to check out the granite boulder at the northwest corner of the walkway; it's one of several glacial erratic rocks in the arboretum. The popular Cultivar Trial Gardens, showcasing more than 700 ornamental bedding plants, is a high-traffic destination during the growing season (which runs through October) as rows of color stand out among its fields.

Near the Learning Gardens, visitors can also see the rooftop garden on Howlett Hall. What used to be a hot and unattractive tar-and-chip roof is now a 12,000-square-foot green roof. The publicly accessible botanical oasis features sustainable benefits, too. It keeps about 200,000 gallons of polluted stormwater from reaching the Olentangy River per year, reduces heating and cooling costs for the food science pilot plant and is also home to a live beehive. Not only does the green roof conserve energy, it also lengthens the lifespan of the roof by 40 to 50 years by protecting it from the sun and harsh elements.

The Lane Avenue Gardens are also worth a visit-highlights include an impressive hosta collection, the labyrinth garden, a 15-foot green praying mantis named Annabelle and the Cancer Survivors' Plaza. During the winter months, arboretum visitors can look forward to the annual poinsettia sale or take home a mighty Fraser fir at the holiday sale. Other events include a winter solstice celebration followed by a candlelit labyrinth walk.

The Labyrinth Garden mimics the medieval 11-circuit Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth in France that was built almost 800 years ago. The labyrinth, often seen as a powerful meditation tool, is a favorite tour destination, as visitors take contemplative walks along its spirals, which eventually lead to the center.

A trip to the Lane Avenue Gardens wouldn't feel complete without a pit stop at Founder's Rock, a glacial erratic weighing 3.5 tons. This big granite boulder, along with several others discovered during excavations on Ohio State's campus, was carried to its current location by glacial ice.

The Bloch Cancer Survivors' Plaza, located at the intersection of Lane Avenue and Olentangy River Road, is a place for reflection and encouragement. The plaza's sculptures feature eight life-sized figures walking through a set of doorways, symbolizing the road to recovery. At the plaza's center is the floating sphere fountain, a 2-ton granite sphere floating on a thin layer of pressurized water sitting atop a giant boulder that was transported from Germany. A light touch can change the direction of the sphere.

Across the street, Arboretum North is tucked behind the Schottenstein Center and includes a fully stocked catch-and-release research lake, a planting of 1,000 native Ohio trees, a diverse willow collection and picnic areas. Visitors can pass through the Prairie Plant Research plots to view the array of flora and fauna. The arboretum also created the Monarch Butterfly Waystation here so migratory butterflies would have the resources to produce successive generations and sustain their long journey to Mexico. Milkweeds and other nectar sources grow abundantly as part of the pollinator's garden at Arboretum North to help ensure the magical migration continues every fall.

Ohio State uses the energy-efficient enCORE Solar House permanently located at Arboretum North for research, education and outreach. The house placed fifth out of 19 total entries at the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition. The furnished, two-bedroom house features a sloped roof to collect rainwater, plus a bioremediation system to filter and recycle greywater. Designed and built by students, the house's unique solar thermal hot air system maximizes comfort while keeping energy consumption down.

When visiting Chadwick Arboretum, remember to bring a smartphone not only to snap pictures, but also to learn about the more than 3,600 trees and shrubs growing in the arboretum by scanning the labeled QR codes.