April 2009 Issue
The Stan Hywet Gardens are peaceful, a little mysterious and positively stunning this season.
The Dell is quiet, serene and enclosed by a natural rock amphitheater nearly hidden by spring wildflowers, soft moss and other woodland plants. It is a world of its own on the grounds of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron — not as formal as the English Garden, not as vast as the Great Garden, not as exotic as the Japanese Garden. The Dell, home to Ohio native plants, is the wild child of Stan Hywet.
The secluded area was once called the Glade by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company founder F.A. Seiberling and his wife Gertrude, who finished building the estate in 1915. The Dell was part of the master plan by noted landscape architect Warren H. Manning. All “proper” estates of the day were required to have a natural area, and while Virginia Seiberling, the Seiberlings’ youngest daughter, could have selected from many scenic sites on the country estate to hold her 1919 wedding ceremony, she chose the lovely, shady Dell.
“The best time to see the Dell is the springtime,” says senior gardener Shelley Funai. “There are Virginia bluebells, white large-flowered trilliums, wild ginger [and] red nodding trilliums. All the wildflowers are ephemeral, which means their lifecycles are completed in the springtime.”
Ferns, mountain laurel, jack-in-the-pulpits and Dutchman’s breeches share their informal beds with thousands of wildflowers rescued and donated by the Akron Garden Club and other groups from natural areas in northeast Ohio that were earmarked for development. Several weathered wooden benches in the Dell allow for private contemplation. It is a place where fragile garden fairies peek from behind mayapples and mischievous gnomes are said to roam.
The Dell depends on shade to maintain its mystical woodland status. Two large tulip poplars and several oak and maple trees watch over the area with their protective leaves. But the Dell actually gets a little more sunlight than it is used to these days, the result of new, young trees added during a recent restoration of the adjoining London Plane Tree Allee.
The allee, a long corridor, was built to visually connect the outdoors with the 65-room mansion on the south vista, and is the view from the estate’s music room. Tom Hrivnak, Stan Hywet’s director of horticulture, has studied photos from the 1940s showing the 600-foot-long allee at its maturity.
“It was spectacular before its decline. But it became dangerous for visitors with potential falling limbs and trees, so we needed to start from scratch,” he says. “We tore out the old, failing trees and other plants in 2006, installed new ones in 2007 and finished last year. We planted 66 12-foot-tall London Plane trees. They are now 15 to 20 feet tall and will reach 60 or 70 feet.”
Of course, spring is a flirtatious season and its handiwork isn’t restricted to just one or two gardens here. The entire estate celebrates. Spring at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens means tulips — about 15,000 bulbs and 28 varieties planted this past fall. The flowers will show their best faces mid- to late-April and mid-May. For many people, it is not officially the end of winter until Stan Hywet’s tulips have risen from the warming soil.
In the past, limited-but-effective color themes have described the estate’s tulip beds. But this year, a kaleidoscope of colors burst into bloom, including the large, yellow Big Smile tulips, the variegated New Design, the orange to burgundy Princess Irene and the stunning dark purple — almost black — Queen of Night.
“We treat our tulip bulbs like annuals because they are in display beds where we like to try new things and which are replanted for different seasons,” says Hrivnak. “Our volunteers take home the old bulbs, so we usually get lots of planting help on those days.”
Also look for joyful daffodils and pretty tree peonies throughout the estate. Much of the Lagoon area, which the Seiberlings used for swimming and row-boating, has been left natural. Spring wildflowers border the tranquil water and frame small bridges. The walled English Garden, redesigned by prominent landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman in 1928, was a favorite retreat for Gertrude Seiberling. The garden’s small reflecting pool, graceful and charming fountain and other outdoor sculptures have been prepared for the estate’s spring opening.
Only the Japanese Garden will be off limits to visitors this year as restoration of the area and the estate’s West Terrace continues. The Rose Garden (containing heirloom roses, hybrid varieties, floribunda and grandiflora types), Grape Arbor and Great Garden, while still lovely, aren’t at the height of their glory in early spring. But the areas are still very much worth a visit. (Visit again in June and July to see the glories of the Rose Garden and Great Garden; stroll under mature, hanging fruit in the Grape Arbor in August.)
Visitors should not miss the Corbin Conservatory, a replica of the original Gothic-Revival-style glasshouse where the Seiberlings grew citrus fruit and flowers for their pleasure, to be given as gifts and occasionally to be sold. The glasshouse contains horticultural exhibits and tropical plant displays, and hosts horticultural programs.
“We have had a butterfly exhibit in the greenhouse in the past, but this year we are giving the butterflies a rest,” says Hrivnak. “Instead, we will have a two-year exhibit called ‘Once Upon a Pond,’ depicting pond life in Ohio.”
The interactive, educational display, opening April 1, includes a large pond in the conservatory with freshwater fish, box turtles, crawfish and salamanders, as well as native water plants.
Washington, D.C., may have its cherry blossoms, but Stan Hywet has its apple trees — 78 in the entry orchard and 88 in the Great Garden. Apple blossoms burst forth in spring. The front apple orchard, a section of the site’s original farm and east of the Gate Lodge, lines part of the curvy main drive into Stan Hywet. The orchard almost vanished over the years, but an award-winning restoration effort using cuttings from several remaining trees has ensured the blossoms light up the grounds once again.
Apple tree varieties on the estate include Baldwin with its red fruit, Golden Delicious, Northern Spy (a favorite among pie makers), MacIntosh and Grimes Golden, believed to be the parent of Golden Delicious.
Some visitors may miss the apple trees up close as they hurry to see the highlights of Stan Hywet, including the Tea Houses, Birch Allee and Lagoon. But it’s worthwhile to take time to stop and smell the blossoms before leaving the country estate.
It will be a sweet remembrance.
Springtime Gardening Tips
Stan Hywet’s experts offer advice on beautifying your yard.
Create a spectacular backyard spring garden with these suggestions from members of the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens horticultural staff:
To plan an Ohio native plant garden, choose appropriate plants for either a shade garden/woodland setting or a sun-drenched spot in the yard, including prairie gardens. Match the plants to the natural environment. Shade plants prefer lots of organic matter (think of undisturbed woods) and bog plants like moisture.
Spring is the best time to divide and transplant wildflowers. Senior gardener Shelley Funai says that because many of the plants have fragile root systems, “take a good chunk of roots and transplant as soon as possible to avoid any shock and damage.” Allow leaves to fall in native wildflower beds and decompose on their own.
Some of the easiest natives to grow are those seen most often along roadsides or in woods. Think golden rod, asters and ironweed as well as ferns, jewelweed and wild ginger.
Mix wildflowers with other annuals and perennials in your garden, but remember to match habitats. Also, choose less-aggressive plants that won’t take over, such as jack-in-the-pulpits or trilliums for shade and asters and goldenrod for sunny spots. Gardeners with limited space who still want a “wildflower garden look,” can buy a number of commercially grown, scaled-down hybrids, according to Funai. Examples include Cloth of Gold and Crown of Rays goldenrod hybrids and Gateway and Little Joe hybrids of joe-pye weed.
Home gardeners with deer problems may wish to choose deer-resistant wildflowers. (Notice that’s “deer-resistant,” not “deer-proof.”) Funai votes for daffodils, fritillaria, squill, quamash, wild ginger, trout lily, turtlehead, Jacob’s ladder and hepatica. Also, bloodroot, Virginia bluebells, mayapple and jack-in-the-pulpit. “Trilliums can go either way, depending on what’s available in the spring. So we’ll just say deer like them,” says Funai.
Pull out invasive plants, including garlic mustard, so preferred plants survive.
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens,
714 North Portage Path, Akron 44303, 330/836-5533.
Opens for the season Wed., April 1.
Hours: Tues.–Sun. 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (admissions close at 4:30 p.m.), open third Thur. of the month until 8 p.m. (admissions close at 6:30 p.m.). Closed Mon., except Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Admission: Gardens, Gate Lodge and Conservatory: $8, ages 6–17 $4, children 5 and under with an adult free, members free. Guided Manor House Tours $18, members $8.
Upcoming events include “Barkitecture,” opening May 9, an exhibit of one-of-a-kind, whimsical doghouses created by artists, builders and architects that will be installed among the gardens and landscaped grounds.
Stan Hywet’s 2009 Spring Plant Sale is Sat., May 16, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Many of the perennial plants for sale are divided from the estate’s Great Garden plants. Stan Hywet’s signature plant, Lisianthus (Eustoma), will be available for purchase. Its showy, long-lasting flowers are great in vases and flower arrangements. The flowers have ruffled petals, oval leaves and can be pink, purple, white or bicolored.