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Cleveland: Will the Republican National Convention Muddy the Waters of a Green City on a Blue Lake?

Delegates are beginning to arrive in Cleveland and party leaders have been meeting here to establish a platform for the general election. The 15-month $50 million renovation of Public Square is finished. The media has arrived and is broadcasting from the historic Cleveland Mall. Newly painted artwork has been installed along the Red Line tracks leading from the airport to the Terminal Tower, giving convention goers an aesthetically pleasing first glimpse of Cleveland. The Rock Hall is pumping inductee’s music into the streets along E.9th. Many downtown businesses have either shut down or modified their schedules, encouraging employees to take vacations or work from home to ease transportation challenges. Hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues are eagerly awaiting the influx of over 50,000 visitors expected to attend the 2016 Republican National Convention. This town has rolled out the red carpet in hopes that when the international media spotlight shines on Cleveland, our true colors will show.

Back in July of 2014, members of the Cleveland Host Committee were triumphant after edging out Dallas for the 2016 Republican National Convention. However, I don’t think they could have foreseen the phenomenon that is Donald Trump.  In recent months, lines have been drawn and sides taken with Cleveland at the crossroads of an epic political power play. Many of the well-known Republican “establishment” politicians have opted out of the 2016 convention, leaving a void filled with Trump’s divisive and racist rhetoric. Protesters on both sides threaten “Cleveland will burn” if they don’t get their way. What was once seen as an exciting opportunity to showcase Cleveland’s renaissance and eliminate bad press from the past, is now viewed with an equal measure of dread due to the looming threats of violence.

So why does it matter so much? Because one person, one political party or event does not and will not adequately reflect the good works that have been occurring here for more than a decade. So before tens of thousands of people from all over the world converge in Cleveland and we are once again defined by what happens next, I think it is important to note who we are when no one is looking.

The Comeback City

Once dismissed as “the mistake on the lake”, today downtown Cleveland is booming. The city’s 21st Century renaissance has been remarkable, rebounding from being the first US city to default on its financial obligations in 1979, to the city that was awarded Standard & Poor’s third highest AA credit rating in October of last year.  From a city in industrial decline throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, to the robust growth of health care and other service sectors resulting in the rebirth of downtown living that has fueled an economic comeback.  From a city with a river so polluted that it caught fire in 1969, to becoming “A Green City on a Blue Lake” today.

Sustainable Cleveland 2019

In the fall of 2009, Mayor Frank G. Jackson and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability announced Sustainable Cleveland 2019, a 10-year initiative that engages residents, corporations and institutional partners to work together to design and develop a thriving and resilient Cleveland that leverages its wealth of assets to build economic, social and environmental well-being. With nine action areas including renewable energy, clean water, energy efficiency, local foods,  sustainable transportation, vital neighborhoods, zero waste, engaged people and vibrant greenspace, the vision of Sustainable Cleveland states,

“Cleveland will surprise, amaze, and inspire the world with its transformation to a bright green city on a blue lake. Determined people from every walk of life will work together to shape vibrant livable communities, innovative businesses, and a flourishing natural environment that will result in health, wealth, creativity, and economic opportunities for all.”

And so it has begun.

A Place to Live, Work, Play

Originally cities were often seen as places that served a variety of purposes. In the 30’s architect Le Corbusier outlined four roles of a functional city as a place that provides dwelling, work, recreation and circulation to its people. However, in the latter half of the 20th Century, trends in city building moved away from this mixed use approach with the increased development of suburbs. People could live away from the crowded central business districts that were also affected by pollution from industrial areas near the urban core. In Cleveland, a series of parks dubbed the Emerald Necklace managed by the Cleveland Metroparks were set aside in suburban areas circling the city, but provision for green space and lake front access were limited and neglected in and near downtown.

Today, trends have once again shifted toward a unification of day-to-day activities in downtown Cleveland. Neighborhoods are being designed with space for living, working and entertaining, with accommodations for the circulation of residents between the three via public transportation and pedestrian infrastructure. Here, the tenets of Le Corbusier’s “Live, Work, Play” theory still ring true. According to a study commissioned by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance,

“A main channel of Downtown Cleveland’s growth into a mixed-use neighborhood has been the increase in residents living in the central business district … According to the latest figures, the number of people in Downtown Cleveland increased by 69% since 2000.” It further states, “Downtown Cleveland residents are more likely to be college educated compared to the rest of Cuyahoga County. Nearly 44% of Downtown residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, up from 29% in 2000 … With the rise in college-educated residents came a high rate of change for upper- and high-income households. The amount of households in Downtown making at least $75,000 annually increased by 260% from 2000 to 2014, while households making at least $150,000 increased by 389%. These findings echo a recent Brookings report that showed that the highest percent increase of highest-income households occurred in the cities of Seattle and Cleveland between 2012 and 2013.”

These changing demographics have increased the demand for Downtown real estate which now boasts an occupancy rate of nearly 98% with more residential space being developed each year. Rental prices have seen an increase of 47% from 2010 to late 2015.

A Green City on a Blue Lake

Green space also improves the quality of life for urban residents and supports sustainable development of the city. While Cleveland already boasts an extensive Metroparks system surrounding the city and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the south, the expansion of natural areas in and around Downtown will provide environmental, economic and social benefits and help to attract and retain urban residents. Part of the Sustainable Cleveland initiative includes the development of parks and natural areas along the lakefront, in addition to urban farms, green roofs, landscaped boulevards, bike paths and green school yards. These efforts will reduce the city’s footprint, preserve natural habitats, improve air quality and raise the overall quality of life for residents.

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Public Square 2016

A Great American City

The popularity of urban “live,work,play” environments is not just occurring in Cleveland or the US , but has become a worldwide trend. Cities like Cleveland want to attract the best businesses to their urban core. Global businesses want to attract the best employees, and to do that they need to offer lifestyle amenities and proximity to similar types of businesses and the network of services that support them. Cities that strike a balance between the “live, work, play” triad, will surely benefit. Thus, if the international media spotlight shines favorably on the city of Cleveland during the Republican National Convention this week, it will leverage existing public, philanthropic, corporate investments, and help to make our comeback a sustainable win for the City of Cleveland.

So convention visitors to Cleveland … we hope you will bring your solutions for peace and prosperity, not division and violence. As you will see, most Clevelander’s already know what makes America great. Take a page from our playbook and treat our city with care. Because after you leave, this will still be our home.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth

 

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The City of Shaker Heights: Going green can be gorgeous!

FCBlog_House 2_Bay WindowThe weather in Northeast Ohio has been incredible this spring. Temperatures have been in the 70’s, with cool nights and just enough rain to keep everything green. Mother Nature delivered another picture-perfect day for the 10th annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights garden tour, hosted by the Shaker Heights Historical Society.

The “Garden City”
The city of Shaker Heights originated as a planned garden community on the east side of Cleveland. Located on a plateau six miles from Lake Erie and 1050 feet above sea level, this parcel of land was formerly inhabited by the organization commonly known as the “Shakers”. Thus, the name Shaker Heights. Purchased and developed by railroad moguls, O.P. and M.J. Van Sweringen, the city was formally incorporated in 1912.
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The community was loosely designed after the Garden City model of development created in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard. This concept of urban planning featured self-contained communities surrounded by “greenbelts” containing a balance of residences, industry and agriculture. However, while Howard’s Garden City combined the elements of town and country in order to provide the working class with alternatives to farm life or crowded urban living, the Van Sweringens designed Shaker Heights for the affluent. They kept a tight grip on the architectural design of each home and reserved the right to reject any plan that did not adhere to their ideal.

The Van Sweringen brothers envisioned the community with large lots, winding boulevards and plenty of green spaces – a suburban retreat from the industrial city center. They built model homes and allowed ample space for schools and churches.

The Better Homes Movement
The Better Homes Movement was launched in 1922 by the well-known women’s magazine Better Homes and Gardens. It set out to prove that moderately priced homes could be built in first class neighborhoods, increasing family protection from unsafe and unhealthy living conditions, while at the same time elevating the character of these residential areas. Further, Herbert Hoover, then the Secretary of Commerce, believed that the construction of better-built houses was “a civic and economic asset to the community” and made possible “a higher and finer type of national life deriving its strength from well-managed, self-reliant homes and wholesome family life.” (Sounds like today’s green mantra, right?) The Shaker Heights Master Model Homes were built in keeping with these lofty goals and served as an example to Clevelander’s that an attractive home in a safe neighborhood was an attainable goal.

A backyard view of Green LakeThe Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights
Naturally, garden design during this time period adhered to the same philosophy of “form following function”. Not only were the gardens of Shaker Heights an extension of the architectural design of each home and an expression of an individual’s private status, but as people adopted more active lifestyles, the landscape surrounding their homes provided residents with “outdoor rooms” to enjoy the healthful benefits of nature. Further, the planned parks and green spaces added aesthetic value to the community and provided residents with additional opportunities to enjoy their natural surroundings. (This seems so logical! Makes you wonder how urban planning ever got so off track.)

Over a century later, much remains the same in the “garden city” and the Gracious Gardens Tour was a rare chance to step back in time and experience life during the early twentieth century, while also observing the latest ideas in modern landscape design. I think the original owners would be pleased to see how their beloved homes have been preserved.

Homes featured in the 2014 Gracious Gardens Tour were as follows:

A Meade & Hamilton Mansion

A Meade & Hamilton Mansion

Zen-sationsal!
The first house on the tour was a magnificent Tudor Revival complete with the original English perennial garden that concealed a hidden surprise behind a wall of manicured evergreen hedges. A red torri (a traditional Japanese gate) was the first to clue to the delightful Japanese garden beyond. Winding pathways and a meandering stream divided traditional plantings of Japanese maple, rhododendron, azalea bushes and bonsai specimens to create serene vignettes – perfect for a peaceful getaway.

Outdoor Rooms with a View
My next stop was a stately home on Green Lake featuring well-placed porches and patios that created outdoor living spaces amid lush perennial beds of roses, astilbe, lupine, peonies and a variety of giant hosta plants. The highlight of this property was the backyard that sloped to the lakefront where a gazebo provided a tranquil place to enjoy the view.

Hidden Treasures, Hidden PleasureFCBlog_Golf
Next up was a majestic Meade and Hamilton mansion featuring plenty of green space to experience and enjoy. Lilac trees framed a welcoming statue of St. Ignatius at the entrance to a pear tree allee. Gravel pathways criss-crossed through an expansive back lawn to reveal a sunken garden, water feature, private patio and a putting green complete with sand traps. Wow! Suits my taste to the t (or tee, depending on your perspective).

Classic English Cottage LivingFCBlog_House 4
The fourth stop on the tour was a departure from the first three locations. I enjoyed the appealing mix of traditional and modern elements that complimented this classic English cottage. Formal arrangements of boxwoods, topiaries and lush planters overflowing with annuals, blended nicely with the updated, yet traditional design of the home. However, all formalities were dropped as the brick-lined circular drive gave way to a crushed gravel path leading to the backyard. A patio complete with a porch swing and pretty pillows was set amidst plantings of roses, hydrangea, iris and a lavender hedge. A guesthouse and potting shed provided additional space to enjoy the gardens, giving the property a relaxed, bed & breakfast vibe. The icing on the cake? The homeowners … who provided visitors with pleasant conversation, lemon flavored ice water and cookies. Nice!

Poolside Permaculture
FCBlog_Private Pool & PergolaMy final stop was the horticultural highlight of my tour. Every inch of this summertime oasis was covered with dramatic combinations of colors, textures and blooms. The backyard featured an azure swimming pool flanked by a rose-covered pergola that housed a Jacuzzi framed in stone. Elegant beds of permaculture, including native plants, pollinators, edibles, organics and more, surrounded the pool. Proof that going green can be gorgeous!

There were two more stops on the tour, but I was running out of time and due at a gathering across town. The sixth location was a beautifully landscaped home set back in the woods, with perennial gardens surrounding a curvilinear pool. The last stop was the Unitarian Church that featured a “nibbling garden” of tasty edibles like asparagus, persimmons and berries. This unique garden was created by a large group of volunteers and donors from the congregation. The Unitarian belief in the Interdependent Web of Life served as an inspiration to what is now one of the largest permaculture gardens in Northeast Ohio.

All in all, I had a wonderful afternoon and learned a lot. I met a nice group of people and left with many new ideas that I want to try in my own gardens. But as I pulled away from the last house, it occurred to me that many of our “new” ideas about sustainability and “going green” aren’t new at all. The seeds were sown long ago and then in many cases abandoned and neglected in the name of progress. But not here.
FCBlog_Garden Cat
Today, Shaker Heights is still known for its strict building codes and zoning laws, which have not only helped to preserve the community’s housing stock and historical significance, but also retain the original gardens and green spaces that make this such a special place. As a result, approximately 75% of the city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Shaker Village Historic District.

Once again, nearly 100 years later, this city serves as an example to Clevelander’s and people everywhere, that an attractive home in a safe and healthy neighborhood remains an attainable goal.

Spread the word… let’s make it so.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth


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Cleveland’s Oldest Publicly Owned Market

As populations migrate to city centers and sustainability has hit the mainstream, the demand for fresh, affordable and readily available produce in urban areas continues to grow. In response to this dual shift in the American mind-set, innovative ways to produce and distribute food closer to consumers are cropping up in cities across the country and around the world. Urban gardens are greening empty lots, not only providing local residents with fresh fruits and vegetables, but also creating jobs and the opportunity to learn new skills. Rooftop greenhouses are emerging as an efficient way to maximize freshness, while minimizing the carbon footprint of produce transportation costs. Local farmer’s markets are also gaining popularity, offering city-dwellers better tasting produce with greater nutritional value. Buying local just makes good sense, both economically and ecologically.

Great idea. Why didn’t we think of it sooner, right?

Well, in Cleveland, this idea is hardly new. In fact, the West Side Market has been providing the city and its surrounding suburbs with affordable, locally grown food for over 100 years.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on “food deserts“, a term used to describe urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. I received tremendous response and interest on the topic. In the meantime, my daughter Sarah, who is studying Integrated Marketing and Environmental Science at John Carroll University, created an excellent photo feature of Cleveland’s West Side Market. I feel her journalism project captures the true essence of what this landmark means to our city… both as a healthy resource of fresh food for some and also a refuge for many more. I would like to share her article with you here:

The West Side Market
by Sarah Milli

page-0The West Side Market, Cleveland’s oldest publicly owned market, has been a one-stop grocery shopping experience for Clevelander’s and tourists for over a hundred years. Located on the corner of West 25th and Lorain Road in what is known as Ohio City, this market contains everything from fresh meat to local seafood, fruits, vegetables, candy, bread and much more. It is a hub for Cleveland businesses and possesses an abundance of rich culture and heritage. Whether it is tourists from out of town or people who have lived in Cleveland their entire lives, the West Side Market is a bustling place to get groceries or grab lunch. The market has been recognized by the Travel Channel and Food Network for its unique market-shopping experiences and ethnic food selection. In the market’s centennial year, it was estimated to have had close to a million shoppers come through its doors.
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The West Side Market is open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and offers the true feel of market shopping. Anthony Sudano, a local Cleveland resident states, “I come to the market a few Saturday’s out of the year to get fruits and vegetables. It’s a great opportunity to buy locally and spend the day with friends and family.” During the week, the usual shoppers who return to buy their weekly groceries take advantage of smaller crowds and better parking, whereas a Saturday shopping experience can be crowded with people wanting to grab lunch before an Indian’s game or spend their day in the city. The Market is essentially funded through each business and organized by the Market’s office. Each vendor pays for their spot, inside or outside the Market, and the cost varies on the size of their stand.
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“A little help from the homeless”, are words that can be heard shouted outside the West Side Market by a homeless man named Raymond Jacobs and other homeless people living in the Cleveland area. Jacobs, a Cleveland “resident of the streets” can be seen and heard selling newspapers in order to raise money for himself and other homeless people living on the streets of Cleveland. But this newspaper, unlike The Plain Dealer or Sun Newspaper is completely composed of articles and columns written by homeless people. “We stand outside the market here because we know it’s a place that Clevelander’s come every week to buy their food”, says Jacobs. “We want shoppers to know we’re doing something to get donations from people instead of just begging.” This newspaper called “Cleveland Street Chronicle” has been around for more than 20 years. What started out as photo flyers and stories of the lives of each homeless person, turned into a small newspaper filled with stories of all local Clevelanders. Jacobs stated that to write for the paper, contributors must be drug and alcohol free, an incentive that the money earned from the paper would only be used for necessities such as food or clothes.
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The West Side Market, being around for more than a hundred years, has become many Clevelander’s source of livelihood, fresh food, and civic pride. John Busch, 82 years old and born just down the street from the market on Franklin Avenue, has been buying his groceries from the market for 65 years. Busch said that his favorite stand in the market is Foster’s Meats, the stand pictured to the right. “Honestly, they are all my favorite”, said Busch. “The market has everything I need from meat to cheese, chicken, steak, and vegetables. The best part is that I know my food will be fresh.” Many West Side Market shoppers like Busch return to the market each week to buy food for their families because of the freshness of the produce and to support local Cleveland businesses.
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Classic Seafood, one of the market’s more recent stands, opened up six years ago and is one of the few stalls at the West Side Market that offers a wide variety of fresh and local fish. They pride themselves in the selling fish from Cleveland’s own Lake Erie, as well as seafood they have flown in overnight from Pacific and Atlantic regions. While they have a wide range of ocean selections such as shrimp, scallops, cod, caviar and mussels, they also offer the local catch of catfish, perch, walleye, and white bass. Many of the workers at this stand have extensive culinary training and pride themselves in the freshness of their seafood. Anthony Cunningham, 19 year-old Cleveland resident and newly hired employee of Classic Seafood stated, “I have learned a lot working at the market and dealing with people who know their seafood.”

I want to thank Sarah for allowing me to use her photo essay on Teach Green. I appreciate her power of the pen and keen eye for human interest stories. We hope to work together more often in the future.

In a speech on November 13, 1974 (40 years ago) at a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, Moses Henry Cass, the Australian Minister for the Environment and Conservation cautioned, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” It is up to us to teach them how to take care of it. I believe that providing them with a place to test their ideas and find their voice is a step in the right direction.

Thanks for reading!

Elizabeth


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In the Garden: A Universal Sanctuary for the Body, Mind and Spirit

The next time our leaders plan to discuss important issues that affect all of humankind… maybe they should meet in the garden. Throughout the ages, its virtues have proven to be common ground that everyone can agree on.

A Blue Morpho butterfly on an orchid at the Cleveland Botanical Garden

A Blue Morpho butterfly on an orchid at the Cleveland Botanical Garden

So, what is the common denominator that brings us to the garden?

I believe that connecting with the earth in direct and meaningful ways helps us to connect with what is best within ourselves, making us healthier people overall. Throughout time, gardens and parks have not only served to nourish and heal our bodies, but also to feed our minds through the study of the natural world, and replenish our spirits with its beauty.

The First Gardens: Food Security
Forest gardening is the world’s oldest form of food-based plant production. Although this is not a term that is widely used in modern horticultural circles, the early humans responsible for the development of forest gardens may have been more sensible than we give them credit for. During pre historical times, forest gardens first emerged along tropical riverbanks and in the foothills where monsoon rains drenched the earth at regular intervals. Families transitioned from a hunter-gatherer existence and began to improve their immediate environment by identifying and protecting useful fruit and nut trees, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which were of direct benefit to humans. Foreign species were also incorporated into these early gardens and walls were built to protect family plots from animals and intruders.

The Healing Power of Plants
Over time, people looked to nature for ways to treat diseases and alleviate pain. The origins of plant-based medical treatments cannot be attributed to one specific civilization, but developed concurrently in cultures around the globe. Natural healing systems can be traced to the traditions of the Ayurvedic and Unani people of the Indian subcontinent, Chinese and Tibetan cultures in Asia, the Native Americans of North America, the Amazonians of South America and several local tribal systems within Africa. There is also evidence of medicinal plant recipes from Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures. In fact, the oldest written evidence of the deliberate use of plants for medicinal purposes was written on Sumerian clay slabs found in area south of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in modern-day Iraq. The artifact included formulas for various ailments using 250 plant species.

A fresco from the Tomb of Nebamun, Thebes, 18th Dynasty

A fresco from the Tomb of Nebamun, Thebes, 18th Dynasty

The Gardens of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and Asia: An Expression of Cultural Beliefs
The first recorded examples of formal gardens created for reasons other than subsistence, date back to the early civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and Asia. They began for a variety of reasons beyond basic food production. Pleasure, prestige, power and possibly even prehistoric instincts of our nomadic beginnings, made people yearn for wide-open spaces to experience and enjoy. Later, formal gardens were rooted in the divine and reflected the timeless quest for the meaning of life and our place within it.

Ancient Egypt
Gardens were essential to the lives of ancient Egyptians. They created neatly ordered green spaces filled with fruit, nut and ornamental trees as well as flowers, grape vines and papyrus. Gardens also had religious symbolism associated with specific gods such as Orisis, Nut, Isis and Hathor. There is evidence of elaborate cultivated grounds around tombs and temples to honor the deceased and provide them with natural spaces to enjoy in the afterlife.

Hand-colored engraving of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 16th Century by Maarten van Heemskerck

Hand-colored engraving of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 16th Century, by Maarten van Heemskerck

Mesopotamia
The imperial gardens of Mesopotamia were grand…even by modern-day standards. In fact, the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon were once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, although no archeological evidence remains to prove their existence or original location. The Assyrian garden differed from the symmetrical Egyptian garden, because they incorporated the natural terrain into their cultivated spaces. Assyrian kings brought back animal and plant species from foreign invasions and used their imperial gardens as evidence of their conquests and military might.

The Persian Chahār Bāgh
Traditional Persian gardens may have originated as early as 4000 B.C. The Persians are known for the chahār bāgh style garden layout, (chahār meaning “four” and bāgh, “gardens”). The Persian garden was designed to emulate Eden, with four rivers and four quadrants that represent the world. Typical designs often feature water channels that run through each of the four quadrants and connect to a central pool. The idea of the garden as an expression of an earthly paradise (derived from the Old Persian word “paridaida”), spread through Persian culture during the Achaemenid Dynasty (550-330 B.C.). The Persians also influenced garden design in other cultures from Andalusia to India and beyond. The Taj Mahal is one of the largest Persian garden interpretations in the world, from the era of the Mughal Empire.

Asian Garden Traditions
The earliest Chinese gardens were created by emperors and aristocracy…and were designed to impress. These modified landscapes could be more accurately described as vast parks filled with select plant and animal species that were used for hunting and leisurely indulgences. Later, gentleman scholars, poets, government officials and merchants began to create more intimate spaces for personal reflection and escape from the outside world. Over time, the gardens and parks took on a sacred role and have been influenced by Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Daoist, Shinto and Modernist beliefs.

A typical Chinese garden has enclosed walls, a water feature, rock formations, trees and flowers, all arranged in halls and pavilions connected by winding paths that lead visitors through a series of composed landscape scenes. These spaces are meant to evoke a feeling of being part of the natural world and reflect the traditional Chinese values of sensibility, self-confidence and harmony between man and the universe. The constantly changing scenery, altered by the effects of the seasons and changing light, is believed to promote philosophical inspiration and intellectual thinking.

Dry garden in Koyoto, Japan April 2004 by Stephane D'Alu

Dry garden in Koyoto, Japan April 2004 by Stephane D’Alu

Japanese gardens were developed under the influences of their Chinese neighbors. However, the Japanese gradually began to create designs based on the unique terrain of their island archipelago and the Shinto religion. Their gardens first appeared on the island of Honshu, and were shaped by the distinct characteristics of the Honshu landscape with rugged volcanic peaks, narrow valleys, mountain streams with waterfalls and pebble beaches.

Japanese garden styles serve many different purposes. Zen gardens are designed to promote enlightenment through meditation and minimalist design leaves room for spiritual thinking. Roji are simple gardens with teahouses, where the Japanese tea ceremony is conducted. Promenade gardens feature carefully composed landscapes along a winding path.

Throughout recorded history, the creation of gardens and cultivation of plants is universal to civilizations around the world. Although designs vary due to religious beliefs, cultural heritage, climate and landscape terrain, gardens and parks all share a basic unifying element. Experiencing the pleasures of nature make people feel better, both mentally and physically.

The Roman Empire in the 3rd Century A.D.

The Roman Empire in the 3rd Century A.D.

The Age of Exploration and the Business of Gardening
Over time, societal structures became more organized and people began to categorize and cultivate useful plant species for their healthful and healing powers. As people ventured beyond their immediate environment, they began to share their knowledge with other cultures, thus ushering in a new era of international commerce and trade.

The rise and fall of the Roman Empire had a great influence on horticulture. Romans were avid gardeners. From the grand landscapes of imperial country estates to the most humble private plots behind city houses, they treasured gardens both as places for relaxation and as plots to grow ornamental plants and trees, as well as fruits and vegetables. Like the ebb and flow of a great wave, as the Roman Empire expanded to include huge swaths of the Eurasian continent from Britain to North Africa and Portugal to Asia Minor, they flooded every corner of their newly conquered lands with gardens. Later, as their influence began to recede, they left behind the seeds of their horticultural practices that remained rooted in place long after they were gone.

The Romans also influenced the monks. Foundation documents of numerous Christian monasteries, note that gardening was seen as an act of humility and also a necessary vocation. From a utilitarian standpoint, vegetable and herb gardens helped provide both nutritional and medicinal crops, that were used to feed or treat the monks and, in some cases, the outside community. These gardens became the model for the physic gardens (medicinal herb gardens) that would later appear in Italy and other areas of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Another powerful wave swept the globe in the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th centuries. Marco Polo’s expeditions to Persia, China and Southeast Asia, along with the discovery of America in 1492 and Vasco De Gama’s journey to India in 1498, eventually led to the beginning of European overseas expansion and the rise of colonial empires. As a result, contact between the Old and New Worlds produced the Columbian Exchange: a wide transfer of plants, animals, foods, human populations and culture between the Eastern and Western hemispheres.

At this point, the Age of Discovery enveloped the world, and with it, the rise of international trade. Organizations such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid were set up to try and cultivate new species that were being brought back from expeditions to tropical locations. They also helped found gardens in tropical regions to cultivate newly discovered plant species for commercial use. These distant tropical plantations were created almost solely to receive and cultivate commercial crops such as cloves, tea, coffee, breadfruit, cinchona, palm oil and chocolate.

Down House, the former home of the English naturalist Charles Darwin and his family

Down House, the former home of the English naturalist Charles Darwin and his family

The Charles Darwin Era and The Origin of Species
As trade routes expanded and new lands were being surveyed, botanists and naturalists were commissioned to accompany these expeditions and document the flora and fauna along the way. By some twist of fate, Charles Darwin, a seemingly ordinary young man encouraged by his father to become a country parson, instead accepted a commission (without pay) as a naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, a scientific ship assigned by the British Admiralty to survey the east and west coasts of South America. As the Beagle cast off from the shores of England, no one could have predicted the ripple effect that would be created by this monumental journey…washing away traditional beliefs of divine providence and the immutability (unchanging nature) of species and replacing it with new findings that would uproot the scientific community worldwide.

Darwin spent the next five years on a voyage around the world, collecting natural specimens, including birds, plants and fossils. He had the rare opportunity to study the principles of botany, zoology and geology through a wide-angle lens. The varied nature of ecological systems from South America and the Galapagos archipelago to the Pacific Islands, gave Darwin unique insights into nature itself. He began to see patterns of adaptation that countered established creationist theories. Upon his return to England, he fine-tuned and double-checked his theories through detailed experiments, anticipating a strong backlash from the church. With much trepidation, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection in 1859, and created a tidal wave of controversy between science and religion that remains to this day.

Darwin has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history. Why? Because he discovered nature’s golden rule…in order to thrive, we must adapt and live as part of our environment, not apart from it.

21st Century Gardening and the Green Movement
Scientific research has come a long way since the days of Darwin. And yet, we still resist basic ecological principles that ensure our continued health and wellbeing as a species. We are more knowledgeable and connected than any other time in human history. Information and ideas circle the globe at the speed of thought. Food, medicine and other plant-based products are imported and exported in a complex network of international trade. However, even knowing what we do, the earth’s natural resources have been exploited with little thought given to the consequences of our actions. As a result, a new wave of change is looming on the horizon. Climate change…and this time nature is at the helm.

Certain human activities have been identified as causes for recent changes in climate patterns on the Earth and the results of these changes may have a significant impact on fragile ecosystems around the world. According to the United States National Research Council’s report titled America’s Climate Choices: Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change; National Research Council:

“Science has made enormous inroads in understanding climate change and its causes, and is beginning to help develop a strong understanding of current and potential impacts that will affect people today and in coming decades. This understanding is crucial because it allows decision makers to place climate change in the context of other large challenges facing the nation and the world. There are still some uncertainties, and there always will be in understanding a complex system like Earth’s climate. Nevertheless, there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities. “

Today, the nature of gardening is returning to its roots. Environmental education programs are now being offered in schools, parks and botanical gardens around the world. Innovators are building rooftop greenhouses and retrofitting high-rise buildings with vertical gardens and green spaces. Urban gardens are replacing blighted neighborhoods and there is renewed interest in the family farm. According to the World Health Organization, currently, about 80% of the world’s population relies on plants for their primary health care and some 35,000 to 70,000 species have been used as medicines. In today’s global pharmaceutical market, more than 50 major drugs originate from tropical plants. There is also an increasing amount of evidence that humans derive direct psychological benefit from exposure to nature. In retrospect, this should come as no surprise.

Time spent in the garden reaffirms the fact that our body, mind and spirit are deeply rooted in the natural world, regardless of how complex our lives may become on the surface.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth
TG13_White Orchids


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The Seiberling Legacy: One family’s passion and purpose helped to shape the landscape of America

The Manor House

The Manor House

In the spring of 1912, F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling traveled to England, along with their adult daughter Irene and New York architect Charles Schneider, to seek inspiration for the Tudor revival-style home they were planning to build six miles northwest of Akron. The founder of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and his family had completed a tour of some of the oldest manor houses and castles in the country and were scheduled to return to America on April 10 aboard the maiden voyage of a fabulous new luxury steamer leaving out of Southampton bound for New York City. Just before departure, their British guide suggested they delay their return in order to visit a 300 year-old manor house that was being razed not far from London. Sir Walter Tyndale, a notable European painter and illustrator, had helped them to gain access to many fine estates that were not ordinarily open to the public and he felt this particular home, in the midst of deconstruction, would give them unique insights into the underlying framework of a typical English structure from that time period. The Seiberlings heartily agreed and delayed their travel plans as a result.

Imagine their stunned shock when, days later, headlines of the London newspapers screamed of unprecedented tragedy in the North Atlantic. The Seiberlings had originally been booked to return aboard the Titanic and they owed a debt of gratitude to Sir Walter’s last minute suggestion that turned out to be providential for many reasons. The decision to extend their trip not only may have charted a new course for the fate of the Seiberling family, but also the completion of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens and the legacy that would include future conservation efforts of the natural spaces within the Cuyahoga Valley corridor between Akron and Cleveland, and millions of acres of wilderness in the western states and Alaska.

The Seiberling entourage returned home later in May aboard the RMS Lusitania to begin work on their family home that would prove to be a flagship of a more durable sort.

Family History
The Seiberling family has been connected to the land since Nathan Seiberling brought his family to Summit County in 1831. He prospered in the growing community and fathered 15 children. His oldest son John Franklin possessed similar entrepreneurial spirit and became an inventor and manufacturer of timesaving agricultural equipment. John Seiberling’s mower-reaper invention allowed for an increase in productivity to meet the demands of the Civil War, despite the loss of farmers and laborers who served in the army. In 1865, Seiberling moved his operation north to Akron, where good rail and canal service greatly enhanced distribution capabilities. By the last decade of the 19th century, he had become the richest man in Akron.

John Franklin had eleven children and two of his sons, Frank Augustus (F.A.) and Charles W. inherited their father’s business acumen and became involved in the family enterprise. Unfortunately, the farm machinery company was a casualty of the severe depression of the 1890’s. However, F.A. rebounded from this temporary setback and decided that the rubber tire industry had greater potential. In 1898, he founded Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, named for Charles Goodyear who invented the vulcanization process – the hardening and strengthening of rubber – in 1839. As popularity of the automobile skyrocketed, so did F.A.’s income, reaching $3 million per year by the late 1910’s.

The Gilded Age in Northeast Ohio
A variety of factors played a role in the Northeast Ohio’s rise to prominence. Strategically positioned on the Great Lakes, the area provided easy access to an abundance of natural resources, and improved transportation infrastructure placed the cities of Cleveland and Akron at the epicenter of industrial innovation.

Rapid economic growth after the Civil War brought about a convergence of business genius that contributed to a surge of unprecedented wealth for a select group of entrepreneurs. Men like Henry Ford in Detroit, John D. Rockefeller in Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie in Pittsburgh and Seiberling in Akron, saw the long range potential for new products and services in post-war America. They were a fellowship of fierce competitors, determined in their pursuit of financial success and influence. These men operated on a grand scale, thriving on the risk and excitement of business interests, as well as enjoying the rewards of luxurious living that their business success provided. They were famous for throwing extravagant parties and building palatial homes.

The Seiberlings, however, were determined to build more than just a rich man’s showplace. They wanted to create a gracious gathering place for family, friends, and industrial, cultural and political figures of the time. F.A. began to accumulate property in an area he explored as a youth and eventually amassed a huge parcel of land six miles northwest of the city, atop one of Akron’s seven hills overlooking the Cuyahoga Valley. His wife, Gertrude, enrolled at Buchtel College (now the University of Akron) and took courses in interior decorating, landscape architecture and other related courses in preparation for the project. After considering a wide variety of proposals including an Italian villa, a colonial farm and even a French chateau, they chose to build a Tudor revival-style country home recapturing the spirit and quality of medieval craftsmanship, rather than replicating some of the opulent styles that had come to be associated with the Gilded Age. They named their new home Stan Hywet (pronounced HEE-wit) meaning ”hewn stone ” in Old English, originally chosen because there was a sandstone quarry on the property.

The Manor House
When the construction of Stan Hywet Hall was complete, it was the largest home in Ohio measuring 64,500 square feet and included more than 65 rooms, 23 bathrooms and 23 fireplaces. In keeping with their commitment to health and physical fitness, they also installed an indoor swimming pool known as the “Plunge”, a four-hole golf course, walking and horseback riding trails, two tennis courts and an indoor gymnasium and bowling alley in the basement.

The Stage just outside the great Music Room where outdoor performances were held for friends and family.

The Stage just outside the great Music Room where outdoor performances were held for friends and family.

Remarkably, each room was designed to be unique, decorated with the finest antiques and furnishings from around the world. The Music Room with 18-foot-high molded plaster ceilings, crystal and amber chandeliers and fine oak paneling was the place where the Seiberlings hosted grand parties and family gatherings. On a stage at the far end of the room, they entertained guests with Shakespearian plays, concerts and recitals. The South Terrace doors extended the room outside and into the surrounding gardens.

The Gardens

The Birch Tree Allee leading to the Tea Houses

The Birch Tree Allee leading to the Tea Houses

The exterior living spaces were impressive in their own right. Architect Charles Schneider worked closely with the renowned landscape architect Warren Manning, whose extensive knowledge of horticulture and plant specimens was also utilized in such notable projects as the Chicago Columbian Exhibition of 1893, the planting design of George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate and William Gwinn Mather’s Gwinn Estate in Cleveland’s Bratenahl Village on the shoreline overlooking Lake Erie.

Both men paid close attention to architectural details to ensure the elements of nature were experienced around the home, and also from within. The position of doors and windows, even the position of the house itself, set in accordance with the summer solstice, ensured maximum appreciation of nature. A 550-foot long birch tree allée was designed to connect the north end of the manor to twin Tea Houses that overlooked the Lagoon, where the Seiberling family would swim, fish, and canoe in the summer months, and ice skate in winter. A corresponding London Plane tree allée extended south, leading to a stone underpass that connected to an area known as the Dell, where a rim of rock ledges formed a natural amphitheater amid a clearing in the old-growth forest.

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden

Directly behind the house, a winding Japanese Garden descended the bluff and a walled English Garden was designed and installed by the legendary Ellen Biddle Shipman, described by Manning to be “one of the best, if not the best flower garden makers in America.” Shipman worked with Gertrude Seiberling to create a hidden garden reminiscent of the classic English children’s novel, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. When completed, it was said to be Gertrude’s favorite refuge and the place where she went for solitude, and to spend time with her children.

The English Garden by Ellen Biddle Shipman

The English Garden by Ellen Biddle Shipman

Manning designed many other structures to support and complement the estate including a Carriage House, Gate Lodge, and a Gothic-style Conservatory, used for fruit and flower growing, as well as a green retreat during the long winter months.

Mr. Seiberling once insisted, “We will have in our new home something for everyone no matter on what plane they approach it, whether physical, intellectual or spiritual.” True to his word, F.A. shared his new home with extended family, a circle of community friends, business associates, political figures and dignitaries from around the world.

Early Community Efforts
The period from 1910 to the early 1920’s was characterized by social, economic and political unrest that challenged traditional notions of class structure. During this time, the city of Akron had tripled in size and poor planning led to the construction of crudely built houses on small lots with a lack of amenities such as schools, parks and playgrounds. Working-class neighborhoods were notable for their congestion and grim appearance. Although Stan Hywet stood as a symbol of the traditional elite, the Seiberlings used their passion for the natural world to soften the harsh realities of the tumult that existed elsewhere in their community.

Gertrude Seiberling founded the Akron Garden Club in 1924 and also helped to coordinate similar efforts across the country. The exquisite gardens on the Seiberling estate served as inspirational settings for her various gatherings. F.A. complemented his wife’s efforts and became an influential member of the Akron Park Board where he convinced the board to employ Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the son of the renowned designer of New York’s Central Park and an accomplished landscape architect in his own right, to create a master plan for the community as he had also done for the city of Cleveland. F.A. donated the hillsides on the northern edge of the estate and Sand Run Creek to the Akron park initiative. His gift was the first major tract of land given to create a metropolitan park in the area and some of the most beautiful landscape in the Akron system.

Passing the Torch
John F. Seiberling was the grandson of F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling and lived in the Gate House at Stan Hywet with his father Fred Seiberling and mother, Henrietta. During his formative years on the Seiberling estate, John learned about the natural world from his father, Fred Seiberling. In his biography by Daniel Nelson, A Passion for the Land, Seiberling recalls one particular spring morning in 1926 walking through the woods with his father and sister. Fred “told us the names of the different kinds of plant and trees as we went along…It was a magical, eye-opening experience. It left me with a new, conscious love of nature.” He also developed a strong sense of ethics and an appreciation of culture from his mother. However, at that time, he knew very little about the world beyond the boundaries of the estate.

Twin Tea Houses overlooking the Quarry where the family enjoyed water sports.

Twin Tea Houses overlooking the Quarry where the family enjoyed water sports.

His parents, with the backing of F.A. and Gertrude, decided he should attend Staunton Military Academy, a college preparatory school in Virginia. There, he grew into a studious young man. He graduated as an honor student and although three of his uncles were Princeton alumni, he attended Harvard instead.

Seiberling flourished in Cambridge and was fascinated with history. The influence of several notable professors, combined with the liberal atmosphere of the university, convinced him of the possibilities of an activist’s role as an agent for change. He graduated from college as a New Deal Democrat and enlisted in the army to serve his country.

The destruction of Europe and the great losses incurred during World War II made a lasting impression on Seiberling. He emerged from the war a decorated officer with an expanded worldview. Upon his return to the U.S., he attended Columbia Law School on the G.I. Bill, graduated with honors and then joined a leading Wall Street law firm. He was married and started a family, settling into big-city life, far from the green-carpeted hills of the Cuyahoga Valley.

During his time in New York, John longed for the green spaces he remembered from his youth and took up downhill skiing and photography to fill the void. He vacationed out west and developed a passion for the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies, beautiful landscapes that strengthened his commitment to wilderness preservation in later years.

U.S. Representative John F. Seiberling
In January of 1954, John accepted a position as a corporate attorney for Goodyear and was drawn back to Akron and the extended Seiberling family. While the city was relatively unchanged, the same could not be said for the state of Seiberling family affairs. Gertrude Seiberling had died in 1946. F.A. continued to live on the estate in poor health. By the late 1940’s, the Seiberling children expressed concern about the future of the estate and began to discuss their options. The personal fortune that had created Stan Hywet was depleted by this time and none of the family members were able to afford the upkeep of the property. With incredible sacrifice, the family agreed that Stan Hywet should pass into the public realm and be made useful to the community, according to their parents’ wishes. The death of F.A. Seiberling in 1955 marked the end of family occupation of Stan Hywet Hall, but only the beginning of a family legacy that would last to the present day.

The Seiberling’s presented their dilemma to the community who responded with great interest. A group of volunteers was assembled to study the feasibility of converting the estate into a museum. On April 29, 1956, the Stan Hywet Hall Foundation and a board of trustees were formed and the estate became a non-profit entity. John Seiberling handled much of the legal work for the foundation for many years and became a strong advocate for the preservation of many similar buildings of historical significance throughout the country.

During those years, he and his family lived on 18 acres a few miles north of the original Seiberling estate in the town of Bath. His neighbors were actively involved in efforts to save the Cuyahoga Valley from developers and environmental degradation and introduced him to their cause. John Seiberling became passionately involved at this local level, fueled by fond memories of the forests and fields he had experienced in his youth.

In 1968, Seiberling decided to run for Congress, partially in opposition to the Vietnam War, but also with the conviction to reform Congress and ensure that public resources were directed to domestic issues. Seiberling used his position in Congress to push through legislation that would not only save the Cuyahoga Valley, which would eventually become Ohio’s only National Park, but he was also instrumental in creating 100 million acres of parks and wildlife refuges in Alaska and additional protected lands in national forests across the United States. As Chair of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands, he helped to create urban parks and promoted wildlife protection as the best approach to public land management.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Today, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) encompasses 33,000 acres between Cleveland and Akron and is one of the most visited parks in the system with over two million visitors each year. Outdoor recreational opportunities include biking, golfing, hiking, skiing and riding on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The park is the summer home to the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center, which also hosts a variety of concerts featuring rock, jazz and country music in an open-air amphitheater and sweeping lawn that together can accommodate over 19,000 people.

The barn at the Inn at Brandywine Falls in the CVNP

The barn at the Inn at Brandywine Falls in the CVNP

Historical buildings and structures have also been preserved within the boundaries of the park, such as Hale Farm & Village, remnants of the Ohio & Erie Canal and working farms that represent the rural heritage of the Cuyahoga Valley. In 1999, the CVNP established “The Countryside Initiative” to rehabilitate historical farms within the park, supporting a new generation of farmers and also educating the general public on the history of the family farm.

CVNP_BWFalls_FallsMost importantly, the land, its habitats and cultural elements have been preserved and offer a unique glimpse into the origins of the Cuyahoga Valley and also the growth of our nation. From the glacier-scarred landscape before settlement, to early farming efforts of the nineteenth century, as well as the developments of our transportation infrastructure and modern day recreation facilities, the natural and cultural history of the area is protected for all to experience, explore and enjoy.

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens still stands just beyond the southern border of the park and is open to the public. The Seiberling flagship is a symbol of the past, but with a renewed present-day purpose. Set on 70 acres amidst a sea of rhododendron and flowering trees, the Manor House remains “a place with something for everyone”, just as the Seiberlings envisioned it, and maybe even more than they could have imagined.

Stan Hywet has become a center for programs emphasizing nature and the virtues of outdoor activities, with a variety of exhibits that highlight the historical, cultural and horticultural aspects of the early 20th century. However, it is more than just a museum. Couples come to the estate to exchange wedding vows in the Dell, or the English garden or on the West Terrace & Overlook. Shakespeare is still performed on the grounds in an outdoor theater near the Lagoon. Children play on the Great Lawn and search for hidden treasure in a game called “geocaching”, using GPS technology and portable hand held devices. Teachers bring students to the estate to learn about a variety of subjects, including science, local history, literature and more. Each season, visitors come from near and far to experience the legacy that the Seiberlings left behind.

The Legacy Lives On

Western Vista Overlooking the Cuyahoga Valley

Western Vista Overlooking the Cuyahoga Valley

As I stood at the front entryway on a recent visit to Stan Hywet Hall, I glanced up at the visionary statement etched into the family crest nearly a century ago. “Non Nobis Solum” (Not for Us Alone). I stepped across the threshold and my gaze was immediately drawn past the finery of the Great Hall and through the open rear door to the vista of the Cuyahoga Valley. I was reminded that, in word and deed, the ideals that inspired one family to make a difference, are as relevant today as they were then. Their passion for nature has truly been a gift bequeathed to us all.

Elizabeth