July 2005 Issue
Zoar Village's heavenly garden boasts a rich history within its unique design.
The German Separatists who settled Zoar back in 1817 recognized the importance of a tranquil garden in the midst of their tiny religious community, so much so that they devoted an entire block to such a development. The garden was established primarily for the pleasure of the residents, and today the purpose remains the same, as the current inhabitants of this historic village as well as visitors enjoy the lovely flowers, shrubs and trees that occupy an entire city block on the main street of Zoar.
|When You Go...
Zoar is located three miles east of I-77, Exit 93, on St. Rte. 212, 12 miles south of Canton and 12 miles north of New Philadelphia. The garden is located on Main and Third streets, across from the No. 1 house, also owned by the Ohio Historical Society. The garden is open daily from dawn to dusk, free of charge. Tours of the museum and buildings owned by the Society are also available through the summer.
For more information, call the Ohio Historical Society at 800/262-6195 or visit www.ohiohistory.org/places/zoar/. The Zoar Community Association's web site, www.zca.org, lists upcoming events in the village, including the 31st Annual Harvest Festival, Aug. 6-7, the Zoar Civil War Reenactment, Sept. 17Ã18, and the Zoar Apfelfest, Oct. 1-2.
Now owned and maintained by the Ohio Historical Society, Zoar's garden continues to provide a haven of tranquility in the center of the village. Though the garden was completely renovated in 1970 by the Ohio Historical Society, the flower beds remain close to their original lines, and many are filled with the same plant varieties that the Separatists enjoyed 150 years ago. Sitting in the garden is like taking a step back in time, listening to the melodic songs of the birds and the rustle of fauna that call this unique plot of earth their home.
Each spring, it takes three gardeners four days of work to plant the 13,500 flowers that transform the garden into a profusion of color. That's after weeks of work just preparing the soil. Two large beds just inside the entrance each holds 1,000 plants. Many of the flowers here, such as chrysanthemums, petunias, roses and geraniums, are the same variety of plants that bloomed when the garden was first created.
All historic references aside, this garden is no ordinary assemblage of lovely blossoms, trees and shrubbery. Zoar's garden is laid out in a design resembling a wheel, from a description of the New Jerusalem found in the Book of Revelations. In the center is a large Norway spruce that represents Christ, or everlasting life. It's surrounded by a hedge of arborvitae, and the 12 juniper trees planted outside the hedge represent the 12 apostles. This circle represents God's Kingdom, or heaven, and grass pathways run from the edge of the garden to this circle, symbolizing the hope that no matter what path one takes in life, it will lead to heaven. Some people have even asked to have their ashes scattered within the circle.
At the north end of the garden sits the gardener's house and a greenhouse, which also was designed by the Separatists. They called it the hothouse or Orangerie, because of the orange and lemon trees grown there. The tropical fruit trees were kept in large wooden tubs that could be moved into the greenhouse during the winter months. After the Ohio and Erie Canal was built, wealthy Clevelanders would send their plants to Zoar to be kept in the greenhouse during winter because of its unique underground heating system.
Kim Klingaman, head gardener for the Ohio Historical Society, has carefully researched the garden's history and plans to add shrubs and birdhouses to the already stunning garden setting. Other heirloom plants to be added include pheasant eye, black-eyed swan, Maltese cross and love-lies-bleeding.
An herb garden is also planned, since research shows the Separatists grew medicinal types of herbs. They also grew strawberries and cabbages to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Zoar Hotel, where President William McKinley often dined on a Sunday afternoon.
Presents from the past
At one time the branches of the garden's Norway spruce actually touched the arborvitae hedge below, forming a kind of tree cabin. Benches were added so young lovers could sit inside for private conversations. Today the benches are outside the hedge lines, but it's still a favorite place for couples to sit and talk.
Don Morgan has worked in the garden for more than 15 years. Last summer he held his breath as a bolt of lightning struck the giant Norway spruce. "I thought we were going to loose the tree, but apparently the only damage was to a couple branches," he says. Morgan adds that the January floodwaters that cut off Zoar from surrounding areas did not damage the garden.
It's unknown what year the garden was first planted, but it is mentioned in some of Joseph Bimeler's sermons from the late 1820s. Bimeler led the Separatists out of Germany to a new life and religious freedom in the United States. The group formed one of the most successful communal societies in the country in 1819, and it lasted until 1898 when it was disbanded.
One of the original gardeners, Simon Beuter, tended the garden from 1845 until his death in 1907; his notes provide a look back in time. Beuter raised more than 200 cedar trees along with apple and pear trees in cold frames in the garden. The trees, seeds, bulbs and plants were given to Zoar residents to plant around their own homes. The famous tree-planter Johnny Appleseed also visited Zoar's garden as he trekked across the country.
Beuter's diary mentions petunias, phlox, pinks, chrysanthemums, strawflowers, asters, mignonette, scabiosa, larkspur, cockscomb and dahlias, all planted in 1860. He experimented with Chinese sugar cane, and said many of the beds were bordered with ageratum or sweet alyssum.
People came from miles around to purchase seeds, plants and cuttings from the Zoar Garden. One such cutting survives today. In 1885, Mrs. Phil Miller, then of Dover, Ohio, purchased a night-blooming cereus plant from Zoar's greenhouse. The plant was kept alive with cuttings through three generations of family members, who then brought it back to the greenhouse in 1971.
Until the middle of the century, the collection of flowers and plants in the Zoar garden was probably the most complete in Ohio. Orders for plants and bulbs came from places as far away as Iowa. Today, Zoar's greenhouse has a variety of plants for sale, offering cuttings that can become family heirlooms for future generations.