Building the pyramids by hand? Unthinkable in the 21st century.
Manufacturing cars without an assembly line? Cost prohibitive.
But in gardening, sometimes the only way to execute a design is by using methods as old as dirt. Renovating the steep, three-tiered terraces that create a backdrop for the Japanese-themed area at Schedel Arboretum & Gardens involved moving 50,000 pounds of topsoil with wheelbarrows (some old soil out, much new and improved soil in), lowering 900-pound boulders with ropes and pulleys, and wrangling mature trees footed with root balls measuring up to five-feet in diameter and weighing up to a half-ton.
The heavy lifting was completed in June; now it's simply a matter of time and minimal supervision to ensure the transplanted flora settles into its new home.
The $10,000 face-lift had been a dream of the Schedel staff for more than a decade, said David Halsey, assistant director of this 17-acre paradise just outside of Elmore and a 30-minute drive southeast of Toledo. The terraced area is prime real estate.
"We kept looking at this wall and we had rhododendrons which, when they bloom, they're fantastic," said Mr. Halsey. But after spring blossoms drop, their woody branches look straggly. Moreover, they were difficult to maintain because they need highly acidic soil. The limestone used for the terrace walls altered the soil, tending to "sweeten" it.
"We constantly had to acidify the soil," he noted.
So the rhodos, along with heaps of cascading English ivy, were yanked. The 16-inch-thick limestone walls were anchored, and a drainage system was installed under the soil.
For a natural effect, rocks were buried to about one third of their height. The new trees, ranging from about 15 to 40 years old, were rotated until staff decided which was the best side to face outward.
"We try to visualize something like this in terms of how it will look immediately and 15 years down the road," said Reg Noble, Schedel director.
Many of the unusual specimens of trees and bushes looked right for the space and had the added benefit of being slow growers: weeping Canadian hemlock, lion's head Japanese maples, and dwarf Japanese black pine. Some weeping pines will eventually drape their sad branches over the terrace, but won't obscure the locally mined limestone as much as the ivy did.
Textures, lines, and colors were considered. There's lime green, true green, chartreuse, dark burgundy, and trees that are turning yellow and orange with autumn's chill.
What had been a horizontal view has become more vertical, punctuated by a pair of dwarf European hornbeams, tall and pyramidical.
"To [purchase] them that size and age is fairly difficult," said Mr. Noble, who shopped for specimens with Mr. Halsey and head gardener Susan Shaffer.
This land with its big, brick home, circa 1887, was a gift to the public from Marie and Joseph Schedel, who bought the place in 1929. Mr. Schedel immigrated to the United States from Germany before World War I and started a company in 1935 in Gibsonburg that made dolomite, a derivative of lime that's used to smelt steel. The Schedels died in the 1980s.
The Japanese garden, where their ashes remain in a stupa (a pagodalike stone memorial tower), has graceful bridges, stone lanterns, a torii, and a reflecting pool. An upper waterfall splashes into a pool that holds riotous Bengal tiger cannas, their pots full of rocks to keep them in place.
A sliver of stream leads to a pond. In late afternoon, Baltimore and orchard orioles, cedar waxwings, and finches come here to drink and rest. A bald eagle has been spotted flying overhead, a large fish from the adjacent Portage River in its talons.
Schedel Arboretum & Gardens, 19255 West Portage River South Rd. in Elmore, is open until Oct. 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for children. Information: 419-862-3182 or schedel-gardens.org.
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