Michelle Simakis
PHOTO BY KEN BLAZE

When you live in a place long enough, it’s easy to take it for granted. Recently, I was reminded of this fact as I rode my bike along one of my favorite paths that winds through the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.

The Cultural Gardens is a collection of gardens established by various ethnic groups that comprise Cleveland. They span more than 250 acres and were established 100 years ago. The first was the Hebrew Garden, and early gardens include British, Irish, Greek, Italian, Hungarian and Czech. Throughout the decades, more were built, and there are now 30 dedicated spaces that were developed between 1916 and 2012. There are also eight in development, including the Ethiopian, Korean and Lebanese Gardens.

Each garden has its own feel and reflects its history and heritage. Plants, step-paths and designs are as diverse as the countries represented. Daylilies, hydrangeas and hostas can be spotted through the gardens, and there are also 60 statues and busts of important figures. The India Garden, dedicated in 2005, includes a tall statue of Mahatma Gandhi (pictured).

MICHELLE SIMAKIS

Cleveland, like many Rustbelt cities, had several difficult decades leading up to the Recession. When I visited back in 2010, some of the gardens were still maintained and in prime condition. Others had more weeds than flowers, and some of the brick paths were starting to show their age. You may have seen this in your own community gardens and parks. When the gardens were first established, families lived in different pockets around the city, so it was easy to tend to the gardens. But as suburbs were developed, people left, and some plots seemed to be forgotten.

However, efforts to revitalize the area, an improved economy and centennial celebrations in 2016 have brought a renewed focus on and appreciation for just how gorgeous and important the Cleveland Cultural Gardens really are. They are special and unique not only because there is likely only one in the U.S., but because they reflect and represent the beauty and diversity of our country.

They also serve as a reminder of the power of plants and gardens to bring people together, generation after generation.

Michelle Simakis
msimakis@gie.net