When people ask me about my favorite lesser-known things to do in Cleveland, I almost always tell them to check out the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.
This collection of 30+ small gardens is a unique and special feature in Cleveland – and possibly in the world. In case you don’t know much about these gardens, I’d like to introduce you to them today.
What are the Cleveland Cultural Gardens?
The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are a collection of more than 30 small gardens that are designed and cared for by different cultural/ethnic groups in Cleveland.
This unique concept was begun all the way back in 1916, with the creation of the Shakespeare Garden in Rockefeller Park (named after John D. Rockefeller, who donated the land for the park back in 1896). The Shakespeare Garden would eventually become the British Garden, and kicked off a garden collection that is believed to be unique in the world.
The Cultural Gardens celebrate the multiculturalism that has always been an important part of Cleveland’s history, and promote the Gardens’ mission of “peace through mutual understanding.”
After that first garden in 1916, others eventually followed. The Hebrew Garden was the second garden to be established in 1926, and dozens more were conceptualized and planted over the next century. As of mid-2020, there are currently 33 different cultural gardens, with more in development.
The newest garden in the works is the Vietnamese Garden, which just had its groundbreaking in June 2020.
The gardens celebrate culture, and are often planted with trees, flowers, and other plants that are native to the country/region the garden represents.
Historically, groundbreaking/dedication ceremonies of new gardens have been important cultural events; for example, the Albanian President Bujar Nishani attended the dedication of the Albanian Cultural Garden in 2012.
Where are the Cleveland Cultural Gardens?
This group of 30+ gardens stretches more than 1.5 miles from Wade Oval to the Rockefeller Greenhouse, running through the neighborhoods or University Circle, Hough, and St. Clair-Superior. The upper part of the Gardens runs along East Boulevard (mostly between the Greenhouse and Superior Ave.), while the lower part follows Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
Some gardens only occupy small plots along one side of one of the roads, while others are large and multi-leveled, stretching between MLK Jr. Drive and East Blvd. You can find a map of the layout of the gardens here.
Which gardens should I visit?
Theoretically, you could visit them all! Each garden is marked with a green-and-white sign, along with the flag of the country or culture it represents. If you wanted to walk to see all 33 gardens, you’d be walking a little over 3 miles.
Some of the largest (and most popular) gardens to visit include the Italian, Hebrew, Greek, Lithuanian, Hungarian, and German gardens.
If you just want to visit a couple gardens at a time, I’ll round up some of the more interesting things you can see. Many of the gardens have sculptures, fountains, or other structures alongside trees and flowers.
- Snap photos at the Italian Renaissance-inspired Italian Garden, which includes a large fountain, and two winding staircases leading down to an amphitheater.
- Walk through the wrought-iron arch in the upper level of the Hungarian Garden (my personal favorite).
- Admire the design of the Hebrew Garden, which includes a hexagonal Star of David shape and a pink marble fountain, along with memorials to Hebrew philosophers.
- Stroll through the Writer’s Recognition Court in the Irish Garden (which also has walkways in the shape of a Celtic Cross).
- Enjoy the triple-leveled Lithuanian Garden, which is always quite lush with plants.
- Take a walk around the reflecting pool to the pylon symbolizing the wall of the Parthenon in the Greek Garden.
- Admire the Chinese dragons and white marble statue of Confucius at the Chinese Garden.
- Check out the 5-panel mural at the Ethiopian Garden, which depicts different periods of Ethiopian history.
- Enjoy the shade of linden trees at the German Garden.
- Visit the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the India Garden.
- See the statue of Mother Teresa at the Albanian Garden. The statue is the work of Albanian sculptor Kreshnik Xhiku.
- Visit the bust of Shakespeare in the original British Garden.
- See a new (as of 2019) statue of Pope John Paul II at the Polish Garden.
There’s a lot to see when it comes to these gardens, so you may not be able to fit it all in to just one visit!
Also keep in mind that each garden looks different depending on the season, so this is a place that’s definitely worth repeat visits.
How to visit the Cleveland Cultural Gardens
The gardens are open to the public from dawn until dusk every day of the year.
Free parking can be found all along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (often right in front of many of the gardens), and on several side streets off of East Boulevard.
Cultural Gardens tours
Visiting the Gardens is free, but if you want to learn more about the history of this unique spot in Cleveland while you explore some of the Gardens, you can sign up for a guided tour through the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation.
Tours in 2020 will begin on June 27 and run every other Saturday at 10:30 a.m. through September. Tours are 90 minutes long, and cost $12 per person.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance will be restricted to 10 people per tour, so you’ll want to reserve a spot in advance (call 216-220-3075 to do this). All attendees will be asked to wear masks during the tours this summer.
Bonus: Rockefeller Greenhouse
While not part of the Cultural Gardens, you can’t come to this part of Cleveland and skip the Rockefeller Park Greenhouse. This city-owned spot includes a greenhouse and small botanical garden that’s open to the public for free 7 days a week.
Outside, visitors can visit theme gardens including a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and the Betty Ott Talking Garden for the Blind. Inside the greenhouse, you’ll find showcases of ferns, orchids, cacti, and more. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the greenhouse is decked out in multi-hued poinsettia plants.
The Rockefeller Greenhouse is also the only place near the Cultural Gardens to access a restroom, so keep this in mind for your visit!
Have you been to the Cleveland Cultural Gardens? If so, do you have a favorite garden?
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Amanda was born and raised in northeast Ohio, and has always been a fangirl of the state. Now, she wants to share her love of Cleveland with the world, highlighting all the best things to do, see, and eat in the CLE.