GardenWalk Cleveland Shows Nature's Beauty In City's Neighborhoods

Sue Borton’s garden in Collinwood. [Sue Zake / Kent State NewsLab]
Sue Borton’s garden in Collinwood. [Sue Zake / Kent State NewsLab]

By Zaria Johnson, for the Kent State University NewsLab

Masses of tall, charming coneflowers and low, dainty larkspur fill Sue Borton’s Collinwood front yard with a sea of vibrant purple hues. A teak dragon statue is nestled within. 

It took more than 25 years for Borton to transform her garden from a cluster of six flowers into the luscious, self-sufficient garden it is today. 

“I've just always loved plants,” she said. “The people that [garden] love it, and our street has a lot of it.”

Borton, along with 32 other local gardeners in Collinwood, showcased their flowers, fruits and vegetables, and trees during the weekend-long GardenWalk Cleveland. Nine neighborhoods across Cleveland were featured, with 282 gardens open to curious garden seekers.

“We want to make sure that people are appreciating the creativity and the energy of the gardeners,” said Marie Kittridge, president of GardenWalk Cleveland. “This isn't about fancy gardens, this is about people showing their pride, their effort and their creativity.”

Appropriately, it rained during the garden tour. The flowers loved it, the gardeners appreciated it and the visitors didn't mind a bit. 

“It's kind of inspiring to come out and go, ‘Oh, I could do this in my house,’” said Terry Jaros, who lives in Collinwood. “It gives you ideas for what might be possible in your own yard."

North Collinwood resident and novice gardener Kayla Ault said she was excited to attend the GardenWalk with her future mother-in-law, an avid gardener herself, to get ideas for what she hopes will be a yard full of blooming flowers. 

Kayla Ault and her future mother-in-law wander through the lush gardens in the rain. [Sue Zake / Kent State NewsLab]

“We want to try to get a rolling bloom so we have something going most of the year,” she said. “Everything over here has been so beautiful. This is definitely a good inspiration.”

“No mow” gardens take the place of grass, filling an entire front yard with lush greenery and landscaping. Collinwood resident Carol Poh said the trend is spreading across the neighborhood.

“People have filled their entire front yards with raised beds, vegetables [and] flowers,” Poh said. “I mean, they just make every inch of your ground count.”

Several residents, like Collinwood's Linda Zolten Wood and Karen Meyer, turned vacant lots, which would have sat empty and unoccupied, into gardens filled with trees and crops.

Though Meyer initially bought the property to provide her family with space to play and relax, she soon found the land had potential to feed her family and others in the Cleveland community.

“We had so many vegetables and fruits, and people would come through and look, and I'd be like “Go ahead and take it!” she said. “We have 30 tomato plants. We’re not going to eat all of those.”

Toward the end of the season, Meyer plans to give away extra tomatoes, peaches, pears and apples to those who need it. “Some people are struggling, and food, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, [is] hard to get,” she said. “That's an amazing thing that people could do with these empty lots: Build some beds and grow your own food.”

Business owners were welcome to get involved too, and Mike Loderstedt did just that at PHOTOCENTRIC gallery on Waterloo Road. The vacant lot next to his building, where a movie theater was torn down years ago, is not only home to a variety of crops, but chickens and bees too.

Michael Loderstedt explains the green features behind The Blue Windmill, his garden and outdoor stage on Waterloo Road. [Sue Zake / Kent State NewsLab]

Loderstedt offered samples of honey and watermelon to visitors as they wandered through the gallery enjoying an exhibit of local concert photographs. There was art in the garden, too, such as the statue of birdhouses made of refurbished wood installed on an abandoned utility pole.

“Whatever stands still we turn into art,” Loderstedt said. “It just went up about three weeks ago, and we have a wren who’s… been kind of buzzing around [and] she's like, confused about which one to pick.”

The whimsical, artistic additions stood out most to Francis Ross, who toured gardens throughout Cleveland. She ended her weekend of tours in Slavic Village, where she was impressed by artistic additions like a chair turned into a planter or a colorful painted frog attached to a fence.

“I like when people have that artwork on their fences,” she said. “I have a fence, too, and I just haven't gotten to that yet, so it's nice to get some ideas.” 

The GardenWalk shed light on some of Cleveland’s best kept secrets, and the people who put in the work to beautify their homes and gardens. 

“People create the most amazing getaways,” Kittredge said. “I love finding new gardens of people just doing the most amazing things that I didn't realize were there.”

This story was produced as part of an environmental justice reporting initiative involving partners Ideastream Public Media, The Land, The NewsLab at Kent State University, WKSU, La Mega, and the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative (NEOSOJO).

Zaria Johnson is a senior journalism major at Kent State University and an intern at The Land.

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