A New Community Garden Campus: Celebrating at Franklin Park Conservatory

By September 15, 2009November 22nd, 20112 Comments
by Julie Moir Messervy


One of the Culinary Gardens. Photo: Julie Messervy.

I just got home from attending the opening of the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company Community Garden Campus at Franklin Park Conservatory (FPC) in Columbus, OH. This is a project that I had been working on for ten years, from when I first lectured there in 1999. A few months later, then Executive Director Paul Redman (now Director of Longwood Gardens) asked me if I would be interested in designing a master plan to revivify the 90-acre park.

Together with my colleague Karen McCoy from MSI Design, we convened a stakeholder group of 50 people including Conservatory and City of Columbus Recreation and Parks staff, representatives from surrounding neighborhoods, horticultural and plant society members, landscape professionals, educators, and corporate representatives. We asked them to write down what was “sacred” about the park that shouldn’t be changed. We learned that the historic Palm House, the Cascades, the large trees scattered throughout the park, and the vestiges of the historic race track that use to operate there were all considered vital and needed to remain.


L: Karen McCoy and Julie in the Bride’s Garden. R: An early rendering of the Community Gardens.
Photo: Julie Messervy; Plan: MSI Design.

Karen and I got to work and presented a plan to the group that included a host of big ideas—a new entrance to the park, a new lake and boathouse, changes to the entry to the Conservatory and new catering and events facilities; a new production greenhouse, and many others. The community groups were concerned that the southeast corner of the park was deserted and crime-ridden. They also asked for more community gardens. Fast forward through 8 years of fundraising, developing designs, and final detailing by MSI Design. The result: the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company Community Garden Campus.

The campus houses the FPC’s Growing to Green program and the national headquarters of the American Community Gardening Association in the renovated Caretaker’s Cottage, which has become a resource for community gardeners around the country. Nearby, along the Chef’s Allée sits the Grape Arbor Terrace where al fresco dining takes place beneath an arbor of lights; the Live Fire Cooking Theatre enables wood-fired cooking demonstrations; a Summer Kitchen and a culinary Education Pavilion allow cooking to take place at all times of year. Surrounding the Chef’s Allée is an extensive collection of Culinary Gardens, including international cuisine gardens, medicinal herbs, and potager gardens. Across the way is the Community Garden Common, where accessible gardens and a host of new plots entice the neighbors over to the park. A Berry House is a delightful screened sitting area filled with every kind of berry. Finally, an Apiary and Pollinators Garden bring in the bees.


L: The American Electric Power Foundation Education Pavilion. R: Donors in the Live Fire Cooking Theatre. Photos: Julie Messervy.

The Campus is the second installment of the First Phase of the realization of our 2000 Master Plan. The first installment opened last year at this time, with the completion of a new Event Entry to the Conservatory, overtopped by two new rooftop gardens; one with a Japanesque theme and the other, the Grove, with an updated topiary theme. FPC’s extensive collection of Chihuly glass animates these rooftops, especially at night when the glass globes and sticks are lit up for the every Thursday evening Cocktails at the Conservatory. James Turrell’s “Light Raiment II” illuminates the historic Palm House—something not to be missed.


Chihuly glass enlivens the gardens at FPC. Photos: Julie Messervy.

I was lucky enough to attend not only the opening of the new campus on Wednesday afternoon, but also the Growing to Green awards dinner Thursday evening, where local gardeners received awards for their civic garden work. One of the awardees was ten-year-old Cedrick who organized his friends to produce a knockout community garden. Another was the Hilltop Neighborhood Community Garden, composed of a diverse group of 15, including children as young as 5 up to elderly grandparents, all there to receive their award. Finally, Friday night, with its perfect September weather, was the kickoff of the weekend festival called “From Field to Table” celebrating the new Community Garden campus. As a benefit for FPC’s education programs, the Women’s Board sponsored a fantastic “Dinner Between the Soil & Sky’ celebration with an amazing dinner for 550 people sitting on continuous tables out under the stars, all catered by chefs serving local food and wines.


L: Bill “Willie” Jacobs Grape Arbor Terrace. R: The Berry House. Photos: Julie Messervy.

What sets FPC apart from other conservatories and arboreta may well be its unified vision of making Franklin Park the jewel in the City’s crown; the superb leadership–of Executive Director Bruce Harkey and others–that continues to promote the vision; a community-minded group of civic patrons who keep stepping up to the plate; and a host of exciting programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. Working with FPC and my colleague Karen McCoy over these many years has been, and no doubt will continue to be, my definition of a joyful process.


L: The Bride’s Garden. R: FPC VP of Development Beth Fisher and Exec. Dir. Bruce Harkey.
Photos: Julie Messervy.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Patrick Gracewood says:

    So good to know how long and how many people it took to revitalize the garden. So often projects are presented finished, as if by magic, when the real story is all the behind the scenes people and work. thank you

  • Jean Krusinski says:

    I was in Columbus over Labor Day weekend for the Ohio State football game. As an avid home gardener, I would have loved spending Sunday morning at the Conservatory before heading back to Chicago. You can be sure it’s top on my list for my next Ohio visit. What a wonderfully revitalized redesigned creation has come to fruition. Congratulations!