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The Woodland Garden: Unique Challenges and Opportunities

February 27, 2024


The Woodland Garden is the largest display garden located within the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. It features some of the largest trees, both native and introduced shade-loving shrubs and perennials, and delicate spring ephemerals. As guests meander along a broad, paved path and over a wooden boardwalk, they follow the course of a tributary of Doan Brook as it wanders through a unique riparian corridor. There are three major forest types represented here: beech-maple, hemlock community, and mixed Mesophytic forest. Such botanical diversity lends itself to a great opportunity to enhance the visitor experience.

The challenges of this garden revolve around both functioning and non-functioning pathways. Over the past decade, trail closure has welcomed large tupelo suckers, saplings, and invasive ivy to take hold and create a more deeply shaded environment in which these volunteers outcompete intentional plantings. Access throughout the Woodland Garden has been limited since the unpaved garden trails were closed in 2014 due to safety concerns. Guests can cross a relatively straight, paved path that connects the Inspiration Gardens to the Japanese Garden or the raised boardwalk that connects the upper and lower gardens. Unfortunately, this disconnect from the interior Woodland understory and its rich flora neglects a wonderful botanical tale.

The boardwalk to lower Woodland Gardens

Where there are challenges, there is opportunity! We are currently exploring the possibility of building new trails and rehabilitating some of the old ones. This will provide a completely different experience–one that will encourage visitors to slow down and enjoy a fresh perspective. Try and imagine strolling down the ravine, along a stream, and through the Canadian hemlock and pawpaw trees. As you continue, you find yourself next to a massive tulip poplar and peeling sycamore trunks to truly glimpse the forest understory. Now, walk to the creek’s edge to appreciate the hydrophilic plants like skunk cabbage that thrive there.

Symplocarpus foetidus – Skunk cabbage

The pathway to progress has begun. With the aid of Dennis C, our NOWCorps Member and Woodland Garden Assistant, the past few months have witnessed the removal of invasive plants and volunteer trees. Intensive pruning has cleared the way for flagging potential routes and the paths are walked frequently to compact the trail and identify areas of concern for erosion or stream crossings.

Stream running through Woodland Garden

The opportunities are there, but the decisive factors remain with the long-term development of the garden’s master plan, insurance policies, and support from both within and outside Holden Forests & Gardens. We are told, “If we can plan it, we can support it.” We will continue to plan for an established navigable route and vignettes of beautiful shady gardens that feature our amazing native plants. Stay tuned!

David Criste

David Criste


David Criste is a Horticulturist at the Cleveland Botanical Garden working in the Woodland Garden, Hosta Hill, and the Sunken Gardens. He is a Graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Environment and Ecology. He has owned and operated a gardening and organic lawncare business in Pittsburgh and a xeriscaping design company in Southern California.

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