Cleveland Cultural Gardens

Designers: varied | City: Cleveland, OH | Project Type: cultural gardens, international, series
Date Visited: 09.20.12

Location: St Clair Ave & East Blvd Cleveland, OH 44108
Official Opening Date: Date back as early as 1926

Forget Around the World in 80 days– you can take that round-the-world trip in just one day at Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens.

This collection of the thirty-three–and growing!–Cleveland Cultural Gardens is one of the more unique features in Cleveland’s landscape. Each landscaped, internationally recognized gardens is located along Rockefeller Park in northwest Cleveland and represent a different ethnic group that contributed to Cleveland’s diverse cultural history.

In 1926, the Hebrew Garden became the first of the cultural gardens to be dedicated in this area. Many other gardens have followed suit, with the Croatian Garden as the most recent addition, dedicated on June 2012.

Incorporating traditional designs of its respective cultures, the gardens “symbolize a refuge of peace in a strife-torn world” by commemorating diversity. Each nationality group represented individually raised funds and donated the statuary and cultural icons of their respective countries for their garden. The city of Cleveland is in charge of garden maintenance.

I highly recommend taking a bike to see these gardens because they are a bit spaced out with an upper and lower level and are located along a major street with no parking. Some parks were large and elaborate and rolled down the hillside, whereas a few others were less impressive and had a tiny footprint. My favorite gardens included the Hebrew and Irish gardens for their plant palette and garden design.

But many gardens had fallen into various states of disarray or have become prey to vandalism. Given that the city of Cleveland has nearly three dozen Cultural Gardens to upkeep and some of them are nearly a century-old, it’s not surprisingly that they’re showing such decline. While I was there, however, I did see a few park workers and a few high school students doing maintenance work for the Italian Garden. They had a working fountain, but when I peered down to the lower terrace fountain pool I saw a giant broken television and a few beer bottles floating in still water. Most gardens have since installed security cameras to monitor illegal behavior, but walking around, I could still see where garden features had been ripped up or torn away. Interestingly enough, it seems like the most vandalism and tagging occurred in the U.S.-themed gardens.

And even though touring the gardens would probably have been better with a tour guide–there was an online guide but I had forgotten to print it out–it was fun to be able to skip from garden to garden to see what elements, plantings, busts, and styles changed as I moved from country to country. But once again, I’m not visiting at when these gardens are at the height of their glory–I imagine that the Cleveland Cultural Gardens are at their most beautiful in spring.

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