Published January 8th, 2010
The Cincinnati Zoo is a terrific resource for gardeners during the summer months, a time of year when their impressive show gardens are at their peak. In cooperation with the Cincinnati Flower Growers Association (an organization of greenhouse growers) and the Ohio State University Horticulture Program, the Cincinnati Zoo plants over 20,000 annual bedding plants in order to test new varieties and provide a stunning display for Zoo visitors.
We visited recently, focusing more on the plants than the animals, and were very impressed with the massive display of color throughout the Zoo grounds. Annual flowers and grasses were combined with perennials, trees and shrubs in hundreds of imaginative ways, showing them off to best advantage. The displays serve as a real-life test garden where flowers are evaluated for performance and ease of maintenance.
Steve Foltz, the program director, is a regular presenter at the annual OSU Short Course in Columbus, a learning program for garden centers and landscapers. We attend this session each year. Steve always has an excellent slide show and shares his plant knowledge, along with a list of his top picks and favorites. This list is also available online at the Cincinnati Zoo website, where you can find photos and descriptions of the latest varieties. A companion site, PlantTrials.com, has a comprehensive photo encyclopedia of the tested plants.
The Cincinnati Zoo is also a Botanical Garden, a collection of interesting plants of all kinds. Plants are labeled with a name and description, so you can compile your own list of favorites as you explore. We saw many interesting grasses, mature shrubs (including several Crape Myrtles hardy in Ohio), a butterfly garden, a Japanese shade garden, a mature Bamboo grove and other exhibits.
Hardscape walls and pavers, water features, decks, fences and bridges are integrated with the plants. There has been major construction recently including some very handsome retaining walls and paved areas with unique design features. Moving water is everywhere, and lots of shady spots to relax and cool off. The parking areas feature extensive xeriscape (drought-tolerant) landscape plantings.
Whether you are an avid flower gardener or just looking for a pleasant family destination, consider a day trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. A few hours there will recharge your gardening batteries.