By Cynthia Schuster Eakin
America’s image as a melting pot nation has never been more beautifully illustrated than it is in Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens.
The gardens are one of Northeast Ohio’s oldest and loveliest treasures. There are 39 dedicated gardens with more coming, designed and cultivated by distinct cultural or nationality groups. The gardens span the drive along Martin Luther King Boulevard and East Boulevard in Rockefeller Park.
“The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are the hidden gem of Cleveland. People driving by see them, but don’t know anything about them,” Lori Ashyk, executive director of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens noted. “The seed for the Cultural Gardens was planted in April, 1916, with the opening of the Shakespeare Garden on East Boulevard. It is now known as the British Garden. It was planted to mark the 300th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Thousands attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. British actors were brought in to perform some of Shakespeare’s works. The garden was constructed in the style of an English countryside garden.”
“The Shakespeare Garden gave our community leaders the idea to honor the cultures of different countries by planting gardens. They initially set aside 18 plots of land. John D. Rockefeller first owned much of the land, which he deeded to the city in 1897,” Ashyk said. “The first garden built after the opening of the Shakespeare Garden was the Hebrew Garden in 1926, sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation.” The Hebrew Garden was created in the shape of the Star of David.
“The German Garden, built in 1929, is the third in order. The centerpiece of the garden is a statue of Goethe and Schiller. It originally stood in Cleveland’s Fine Arts Garden, but was moved to the German Garden,” she said.
“The Hungarian Garden, built in 1938, sits on 3.5 acres of land. Many of the plants in the garden are native to that country. The gate in the Hungarian Garden is modeled after the gate of a country estate,” Ashyk added.
“The waves of immigration to Cleveland are reflected in the Cultural Gardens. The mission of the Cultural Gardens is peace through mutual understanding,” she said. “Statues of writers, poets and artists are found in the gardens. They are considered heroes because they helped to preserve the history and culture of their countries through their writings and artwork.”
Ashyk explained that the gardens are managed by the different ethnic groups, and many of them rely on volunteer labor for the maintenance of the gardens. Each group draws up a proposal for their garden and presents it to the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation, which acts as a liaison to the city of Cleveland, for approval. After that, they are assigned a garden site, which is approved by city legislation. “These ethnic groups are very proud of their heritage and want to be a part of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens,” she added.
Ashyk noted that the gardens are so beautiful, they are often reserved for wedding ceremonies. The wedding parties reserve the garden of their choice by getting a permit from the City of Cleveland Special Events Department.
“In 2016, we had a gala to celebrate 100 years of the gardens. We thought that we should have a central gathering place. So, the Centennial Peace Plaza was completed in 2020. That is where we have our summer concert series,” she said. This year, 11 events are scheduled for the plaza and they are all free.
One World Day will be celebrated in the gardens on Aug. 28 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will begin with a naturalization ceremony and a parade of flags. Last year, 44 countries were represented in the ceremony, Ashyk noted. She said the event includes music, dancing and an array of ethnic foods.
The Rockefeller Park Greenhouse is the northern anchor of the Cultural Gardens. One of the top places to visit in Cleveland, the greenhouse is owned by the city. The plans for the city greenhouse were presented in 1902 and three years later, the first units were completed on a portion of the 270 acres donated to the city by Rockefeller. Initially, the greenhouse was used solely for growing plants used to landscape city parks and gardens. While city beautification is still one of the goals of the Friends of Greenhouse, the greenhouse and grounds have evolved into a botanical garden with specialty plant collections, seasonal floral displays and themed gardens.
The greenhouse and gardens are on four acres of land, with one acre under glass. The design of the outside mall of the greenhouse represents the four seasons. The greenhouse is home to a Century plant, which blooms once every 100 years. There are also tropical fruit and palm trees, a cactus house, and exotic orchids and bromeliads. Outdoor exhibits include the Japanese Garden, Latin American Garden, the Betty Ott Talking Garden with audio descriptions to guide sight-impaired visitors, the Peace Garden and the Willott Iris Garden.
Call 216.664.3103 for information on seasonal flower displays, the annual spring plant sale, special events, educational programs and facility rental for weddings and wedding photos. Admission to the Rockefeller Park Greenhouse is free of charge. Visit www.rockefellergreenhouse.org.
Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens represent our city’s rich heritage
By Cynthia Schuster Eakin