Cultivating a Botanical Legacy 

Whether it’s love at first sight or love everlasting, Clary Gardens is nature’s corsage in Coshocton, Ohio. Its beauty grows in the heart of each visitor and wedding party immersed in the splendid 20-acre hillside at the edge of the restored historic canal town, Roscoe Village.

What started as a tribute garden of roses grew to engage the wedding industry. And the pathway between is a storybook affair.

The daffodils, alliums, flowering trees, and magnolias are lush with color across nature’s palette. Together, they burst open spring in a gorgeous expression of life’s vibrant renewal. As the spring and summer seasons kiss, a stunning variety of annuals and roses open flowers—and eyes alike.

The two historic homes, springhouse, stone bridge, quilt barn, sandstone amphitheater, and woodland trails with caves, accentuate the scene flowing down the vivid hill at Clary Gardens.

And it’s all free to see daily year-round, except after 2:00 PM on Saturdays from May to October, which is reserved to host weddings.

But where to begin? Naturally, it all started with the original seed that blossomed into the spectacular botanic gardens. Her name was Elizabeth (Beth) Clary.

“Anyone who ever met her—her smile—she had the prettiest smile, and it was infectious. Anytime she was at the gardens, she just lit up talking about the types of flowers and trees,” said Jandi Adams, Executive Director of Clary Gardens.

Beth married Lawrence Clary, affectionately known as Larry Clary. He and his brothers owned a large greenhouse in the area called Clary Brothers Florist. It was started back in 1907. When Larry passed in the 1980s, Beth decided to honor him and his family name since they had no children, and he was the last of his line. She decided to do so with a botanical garden. When she saw the available space along the enchanting hillside, she started a charitable trust to acquire it. Soon thereafter, she began to plant the rose garden, a focal point of the gardens today.

“The rose garden was the first thing she knew that she wanted here,” Jandi said. “The Clary brothers were known for selling what Beth called Hot House Roses (greenhouse roses). They filled orders across the country by railway.”

A highlight of the rose garden is the gazebo which is often used in photo ops from weddings to you-name-it. A meandering pathway to the top of the open-air sandstone-tiered amphitheater is at the edge of the rose garden.

The Amphitheatre usually grabs folks by surprise when they near the top edge and it comes into view. Built into the hillside, it overlooks a stream, lined by trees. Although it seats 200 people (capacity is 300 with standing room) it is an intimate setting. The stage may be natural but there is a full electric hookup to power concerts, theatrical events, receptions, and other programming.

“It’s fun to see the expressions of unsuspecting guests,” Jandi said. “The sandstone makes it look like it may have been here for over 100 years. It’s such a nice part of the garden, and it’s become such a landmark here but also in the wedding industry. A lot of people have reached out to us because of the amphitheater.”

From there the space grew.

Past today’s little welcome center is a cluster of quaint historic buildings nestled like a delicate artist’s touch of a brush in the sprawling grounds that surround it. The structures include two houses, a springhouse, and a quilt barn. The welcome center features a book nook, seed exchange, restrooms, and a map of the gardens and trails.

James Calder originally acquired the land and deeded it to his son James Taylor Calder. The adjacent historic Roscoe Village was originally called Caldersburgh. It was renamed to honor William Roscoe, a leading abolitionist at that time. Roscoe Village was a thriving canal town that has been rebuilt for visitors to tour the 1800s life today with re-enactors and plenty of shopping and restaurants housed in the old brick buildings adjoined by brick walkways. There’s even a canal boat ride.

Just up the hill from the Clary Gardens welcome center sits a red house and tan house facing the rose garden like two giant sepals of a flower. The red house, known now as the Compton House was built in the 1830s. John Compton built the tan house next door. It is now called the Garden House.

Although the houses have been renovated over the years, the red house has always remained true to its original color as if it anticipated Beth’s rose garden, which thrives nearly 200 years later.

Both houses are used for special events such as weddings. The groom and groomsmen may get ready in one and the bride and bridesmaids in the other. The bride and her party have a full view of the guests arriving at the rose garden and amphitheater before the outdoor nuptials are exchanged.

Behind the houses, a stone bridge is seen from the Children’s Garden, which has three bridges altogether along its trail. The stone bridge was relocated from elsewhere in Coshocton County.  When it was time to update the bridge to handle the growing traffic, the Clary Gardens board and the Coshocton County engineer got together to talk about its future. They decided to disassemble it and put it back together, stone by stone, at Clary Gardens.

“Kids love to play on it and the stones behind it. It’s also a gorgeous backdrop for photos,” Jandi said.

Next to the tan house is the springhouse. The grounds were known to be a Native American camping ground, where they used the natural springs that emerged from the side of the hill. Today a cistern is used to water flowers in the gardens. A property owner in the 1970s to 1980s named Bill Freund obtained photos of the springhouse dating back to the 1850s. It had fallen in on itself and remained a pile of rubble. He and his wife Carol used the photos and original sandstone to piece it back together.

Springhouses are usually small one-room structures that shelter a natural spring from animals and falling tree leaves. Since spring water maintains a cool temperature inside the springhouse, it kept food from spoiling for a longer period until electric refrigeration made them largely obsolete.

“It’s a neat little space here,” said Jandi. “Sometimes, it’s used for baptisms. When we do tours, we explain that the springhouse was used before electrical refrigerators. This was where people would store their meats and other foods.”

Across from the springhouse is a quilt barn. Artists at the Pomerene Center for the Arts started a quilt barn trail in Coshocton County. This is one of the painted quilts on the side of a barn as a stop along the trail.  The structure was built while Freund was renovating the property. Today, the barn is merely used to house gardening tools.

Just a skip up from there is the woodland pond trail.

“It’s a half-mile loop and is definitely one of my favorite places in the Garden because there are these huge – and I mean huge – sandstone rock outcroppings,” said Jandi.

The rock outcroppings protrude out of the topside of the hill due to erosion over a vast amount of time. When it rains heavily, waterfalls form.

“The outcroppings are gorgeous. We use them to teach kids about caves here in the summertime. It’s really fun,” said Jandi. “We go out and explore the little caverns sculpted from the erosion. It’s just beautiful to see, honestly.”

Clary Gardens also has seasonal trails, such as the spring wildflower woodland walk.

“People don’t often know that we have this large, wooded area that is quiet. There’s a huge creek where we take the 4-H kids and school field trips to go ‘creeking,’” said Jandi.

It’s a large area (popular for people to go with their dogs and let them run off-leash), and it’s shady because of the mature trees. During summer, it offers a nice escape from the sun. Kids love to lift rocks to look for salamanders or find frogs and different kinds of insects.

Summertime is when people from near and far come for the traveling butterfly exhibit. Large enclosures keep the butterflies contained for everyone’s enjoyment. And after a week, it moves on.

Clary Gardens provides a summer educational series for kids. It runs from Monday to Friday for eight weeks.  One day may focus on birds, and another on frogs.

“Frog day is a very popular day!” said Jandi. “Frogs can be so much fun. Many kids have never held a frog—Never played in a creek. So, this is an opportunity to expose them to nature and what we offer here at the Garden.”

The summer program partners with five area organizations: Clary Gardens, Roscoe Village, Pomerene Center for the Arts, Johnston Humrickhouse Museum, and the Coshocton Public Library.  The library usually sets the theme for the group. A theme might be something like “25 years of Harry Potter.” Such a magical theme may involve special garden beds made to model houses from the Harry Potter story.

Kids also love the Fantastic Garden Beasts Scavenger Hunt. This is one of the ways Clary Gardens becomes an interactive experience. Kids go on an adventure to try and find garden beasts (and QR codes) lurking in the gardens. When they find a beast, they click the code and learn something about that garden.

“It brings out the magical theme of being in the gardens,” Jandi said. “And that’s what the experience is – magical.”

There are also geocaches in the gardens. It’s part of a broader geocache trail, compliments of Visit Coshocton. The Coshocton Ring Trail is free family-oriented fun.

Another fun program for kids to enjoy the outdoors is a partnership between the Coshocton Public Library and Clary Gardens to host the Coshocton StoryWalk®.  A different children’s book is featured seasonally.

“Families absolutely love this,” said Jandi.

It starts by the children’s garden and stretches across the hillside to the woodlands.  Anne Ferguson created the StoryWalk® Project in Vermont to engage children in the outdoors and reading. Laminated pages from a story are displayed along a walking path. Featured stories include Giraffes Can’t Dance, The Scarecrow’s Hat, Winter’s Here, and Outside In.

One of the biggest seasonal events at Clary Gardens is the annual spring Easter Egg Hunt. But the biggest annual event is when Coshocton becomes Scarecrow Town! More than 100 scarecrows are scattered around town. Clary Gardens uses the event as a fundraiser for its children’s garden. Every scarecrow put up has a small fee to participate in the contest and be added to the map, which shows the public where to find them all.

“The scarecrows are sometimes hilarious or fun and other times more serious,” said Jandi. “Fall is the busiest time for us. In my opinion, October may be the most beautiful month to come to the garden because of massive seasonal displays. Our spring and summer gardens are gorgeous, but you can do so much more with pumpkins and bales of hay and mums. At every turn in the fall, there are wonderful large displays. And there’s so many beautiful spaces and photo opportunities whether you’re here for an event, picnic, meeting, or just taking a walk on any given day.”

Whether it’s spring, summer, fall, and even winter, Clary Gardens is most known for its variety of group activities and offerings.

Since Clary Gardens has free Wi-Fi and full kitchen facilities, it attracts anything from corporate events to family reunions to Yoga in the gardens. Make-it-yourself workshops are also popular and may feature things like pinecone painting, leaf rubbing, and flower pressing parties. Fees may apply. There are several horticulture events done with The Ohio State University extension.

One event that soars into Clary Gardens during summer is Midwest Falconry. The free public shows feature large predatory birds such as hawks, owls, and of course falcons. There are opportunities to film the majestic creatures in flight as well as get close and personal.

The newest rave at Clary Gardens is live community theater by Rogue Elephant Productions held in the outdoor amphitheater.

“It’s really exciting and so much fun,” Jandi said.

It’s free, but you must reserve your seat(s) in advance. The first two rows are paid tickets because these seats offer a more interactive experience, with guests sometimes becoming part of the show. Shows have featured Into the Woods and Godspell. It may include anything from Broadway to contemporary.

The wedding industry is taking notice of the photogenic amphitheater, rose garden, and other spaces at Clary Gardens.

“We have become the premier venue for weddings,” said Jandi. “People come from different states to have an outdoor garden wedding here. It’s become our thing.”

The open-air pavilion houses 200 people for weddings. It has huge cathedral-like arches that are under all exposed wood. The posts stand on a beautiful stamped 40×60-foot concrete pad.

The pavilion may also be used for reunions, educational events, and other large gatherings.

For groups, small and large, guided tours offer a deep look and experience throughout Clary Gardens. Tours from early spring into fall may be designed for a customized focus. One such tour is named Take to The Skies. It is a birding outing that explores a variety of feathered friends across different terrain. Another example is the Kitchen Gardens Tour, where native herbs are discussed.

Tours may be adapted to be ADA compliant. Self-guided tours are available for anyone to come and enjoy the gardens, ponds, and woodlands. There are natural and artificial walking surfaces such as grass, limestone paths, stairs, slopes, and such that may make walking and using a wheelchair difficult. Of course, instead of walking, some visitors prefer to sit in the calm of the charming springhouse courtyard.

Whether it’s the spring blooms, summer annuals, hillside perennials, bubblegum petunia, or flowering trees, Clary Gardens can be love at first sight or love everlasting.

“That’s a neat thing about Clary Gardens – we’re still this hidden gem,” said Jandi. “I remember coming up the hillside here the first day for my interview. It was a gorgeous afternoon, and I remember thinking Oh my gosh, I could get to come here every day.”

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun 

Sponsored by
Visit Coshocton

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