The Wolcott Lilac Gardens in Kent are a feast for the eyes
Several years ago I worked in a yard off the main road in Kent. At the time I was working as a landscape designer at Amber Gardens in Stow. The crew and I took a little break, and during a conversation with the homeowner, I mentioned that one of my specialties was walking gardens, shows, and nurseries to get ideas.
My client and friend asked me if I ever went down to the Wolcott Lilac Gardens to take a walk through a local friend’s garden. I said no. As we chatted, I discovered that there is a lot of history to this house and garden. What I didn’t like was what she said next, “This is a private garden and it’s open to the public a few days during the year.”
At the time, I wondered how someone would have enough energy, money, or time to bring a garden to a state that would be anything remarkable. Well, after more than 15 years, I came across the name again and it piqued my curiosity.
I found out that this garden had over 250 lilacs with 20 that could have been planted in 1920 as part of the initial planting of 100 lilacs, which doesn’t make sense. 100 lilacs were sent to Daisy Brewster from her uncle, Cornell William Bloom, owner of the largest collections of lilacs in the world at the time. The genetic pool of these plants is something we need to preserve in my opinion. This home and garden celebrates 160 years this year.
In 1863 Simon Perkins Wolcott purchased the property at 450 W. Main in Kent. Wolcott was a popular politician and civic leader who entertained many people in his home – Presidents Garfield and McKinley among them. The presidential dial in purple is not unusual. Washington and Jefferson both grew lilacs on their estates. What I loved was the poet Walt Whitman, a contemporary of Lincoln, who wrote of lilacs when reflecting on Lincoln’s death, “When last the flower bloomed at the door… I was sad and yet I shall mourn as spring ever returned.”
The Wolcotts began developing their gardens at that time.
The Brewsters acquired the property after the Wolcotts and began developing it with rambling paths, terraces, stone walls and lawns. Duncan and Daisy Brewster bought more property for more gardens. In 1930, Daisy opened the house to visitors. Since lilacs are a traditional Mother’s Day flower, the 8,000 visitors who showed up one day probably didn’t seem so inconsequential.
After Daisy’s death in 1955, the sons attempted to maintain the park but fell on hard times. In 1985 Steve and Eleanor Zavodny bought the property and began restoration. Their son, Dr. Robert Zavodny, continues the effort. Being a private but not-for-profit park, I think it is one of the loveliest parks in the state.
The drive to Walcott Lilac Garden is worth a visit
My wife and I traveled from Jeromesville to Kent in just over an hour. We entered the gates and saw all kinds of flowers. do not wait. A splash of Siberia was greeted on the other side of the gate. Larch trees are unusual in that they lose their leaves every season. The strange thing is that this tree reminded us of a dog, as if it had been pruned to take this shape. We’ve seen primroses with most of the colors of the rainbow. Barrenswort was multicolored. Hellebores lined the edges of the path. Many other perennials were in small pockets.
The show stoppers were magenta. We’ve seen Meyer lilacs, mini lilacs, Japanese tree lilacs, nodding lilacs, common lilacs, lilac lilacs, early lilacs, Persian lilacs and more. The information that came about all these beautiful plants was amazing. Can you even imagine that there are still 20 of the original farms left? This means that there were 20 purple bushes that were over 100 years old.
The curator, Dr. Zavodny, only planted some lilacs this year. One of the things I’ve learned is that you can prune 100-year-old shrubs if you do the work carefully. Lilacs are close relatives of the olive tree and do best when followed by a regular pruning effort.
There were bonuses throughout the garden, with a 10-foot-tall waterfall, an upper patio overlooking the garden, a 3-foot-diameter 3-foot-diameter katsura tree, and a 2.5-foot-tall wisteria vine that stood 50 feet tall. , a rose garden with a water fountain, pawpaw trees, and many perennials, shrubs, and trees. I felt like I could have been there for the better part of the day. I was glad there were benches all over the park. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”
One of the reasons we’re talking about this park now is because we can only go on the rides in early May. In addition to this past weekend, the remaining dates are: May 13, 10am-5pm; May 14, noon-5 p.m.; May 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and May 21, noon – 5 p.m. These are the only times the Wolcott Lilac Gardens are open to the public this year.
I hope you have a wonderful walk through your garden. If you have any challenges, let me know at [email protected]. Soon I will be blogging on my website ohiohealthyfoodcooperative.org. Thank you for participating in our column.
Eric Larson of Jeromesville is an expert landscaper, gardening enthusiast, and founding board member of the Ohio Chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.