This was our third visit over the past 18 months to Glenwood Gardens, a Hamilton County Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. And it was Plan B for this outing, as the region experienced heavy rain for the prior 2 days, but we were blessed with an unseasonably warm day for late December and wanted to get some fresh air. We knew that the trails here would be very manageable under such conditions.
Glenwood Gardens is a montage of settings where I find myself most comfortable and energized: Formal garden, arboretum, prairie, wetland, and rolling woodland. As we entered the parking lot, I mentioned to the photographer that the park reminded me of a British estate and that would probably be the theme of my post. It turns out that I was not the only one who felt this way. And the gloomy weather only added to the English atmosphere.
Glenwood Gardens was previously part of the 360 acre farm of William and Mary Burchenal, who named it “Cotswald”, because it reminded them of that region of the British countryside. In 1993 Mary had bequeathed 11 acres and the residence to the park district, which later acquired an additional 238 acres of the farm.
The entrance to the park is an outstanding ornamental garden that provides a view of the valley below, which is being developed as a arboretum blended with a prairie.
The formal garden is a marriage of plantings and hardscape, and features granite that was architectural salvage from the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce building that was destroyed by fire in 1911, although the stonework was not utilized until the park’s development in the 1990’s.
The asphalt “all persons” Garden Trail leaves the formal garden and descends into the valley, with an Indian Mound on the right and a garden folley like gazebo on the left, reminiscent of structures on British estates.
The Garden Trail is a one mile long irregular loop that circles the arboretum and prairie in the valley. Looking back up the hill one sees some of the tree plantings and the “estate house”.
The Garden Trail continues across a century old stone bridge over a small stream.
Here we were introduced to the outstanding birding that Glenwood Gardens is known for. Downy and Red-bellied woodpeckers darted from tree to tree.
Around the turn we departed the Garden Trail and crossed a bridge over the west fork of the Mill Creek, to begin the graveled Wetland Trail. The beauty of this part of the Mill Creek is not lost on those of us raised in the Cincinnati area, where the urban stretch of Mill Creek has been abused throughout the city’s history.
While on the bridge our progress stalled when we noted numerous species of birds, including Chickadees, Titmice, and Downy Woodpeckers, feeding on the white berries of the Poison Ivy found draping the sycamores that embraced the stream. At this point we were moving at a glacial pace.
After crossing the creek, the gravel path climbed a mild grade with the wooded creek bed on the right and prairie and succession fields on the left. Frequently there would be an unofficial side path where hikers trekked toward the creek to investigate the sound of rushing water. Detours worth pursing given the views. Along the trail the most striking findings were the textures provided by the assorted seed heads of last summer’s peak performers.
On a magnified level, the prairie plants are even more fascinating; their complexity and detail often overlooked.
But the prairies are also marked by the sentinel trees like this large sycamore.
We have noted over the last 5 or 6 outings that the somewhat barren winter landscape has featured the Osage Orange fruit, which frequently had been traumatized. While the flesh of the fruit is not edible, many animals, including squirrels and Bob White quail will break it open to eat the seeds.
Another notable that is seen in the winter, when there are less leaves in the understory, is the the Cracked Cap Polypore Mushroom (Phellinus robiniae) that grows on Black Locust trees. It is so common that it is somewhat unusual to find an adult locust without them. While it is parasitic, it really does not do great harm to the trees. As implied by the term mushroom, it is a fungus.
The Wetland Trail off loop (see map below) featured a “wet meadow” and several ponds, all developed to increase plant and animal diversity in the park. On the ponds we found several groupings of mallards. One can see the survivorship advantage of the females’ blandness when compared to the males’ bold coloration.
As the trail headed back toward the gardens we came upon this nice specimen of American Elm, something not often seen in such good health due to Dutch Elm Disease. It has the Elm’s classic “vase” shape. We had seen a larger healthy specimen earlier that was in a thicket and therefore could not be photographed well.
We also found a group of isolated sumacs, the only ones we would see on this hike, who sported these fire engine red berries. Given their peak color during the Christmas season it is somewhat surprising that they have not been utilized in holiday decorations.
Sumac berries, used in a tea, were a source of vitamin C for the pioneers, and if you place one in your mouth you can appreciate a citrus flavor.
One last metaphor to a British estate was appreciated when we crossed the final bridge on the Wetland Trail. The architectural detail and the trillium medallion suggest gentry.
When the Wetland Trail breaches the Garden Trail you find yourself in the arboretum and prairie valley as you head back to the the trailhead. Here we found our only raptor of the day, perhaps a Broad-winged Hawk based on its size and coloration.
In summary, Glenwood Gardens is a large facility where the hike transitions from formal, to semi-formal, to managed informal, providing visitors with a diversity of habitats to experience. It is another valuable outdoor facility close to downtown Cincinnati and surrounded by development, but somehow the sounds of city life are buffered and one is fully immersed in nature.
Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Location – On the northern limits of Cincinnati, just a couple miles off I-75.
Parking – Large landscaped asphalt lot adjacent to the formal gardens.
Facilities – Heated restrooms in the gatehouse entry to the gardens and a porto-let on the Garden Trail.
Trail Conditions – The Garden Trail is asphalt and the Wetland Trail is well maintained gravel. Arising off the Wetland Trail is the trail to the ponds which is grassed. Other than the grade into and out of the valley these would be classified as easy trails.
Benches – Numerous throughout the facility.
Kids – Kids would do well here.
Dogs – Welcomed while on leash of 6 feet or less. Numerous dogs were seen on our visit.