Enjoying nature and its wonders at Aullwood Garden MetroPark.
By Carol Siyahi-Hicks
Imagine a perfect spring day. It’s been a long winter, and you’re ready to take a nature walk and see what’s popping up. You’ve heard about the unusual floral displays at Aullwood Garden MetroPark, and you decide to drive there to explore the garden.
Upon arrival, you leave your car and follow a gravel path along the nearby Stillwater River, cross a wooden bridge over Wiles Creek, and soon enter a gate to the garden. Old-growth trees tower over gracefully spacious beds of wild and cultivated flowers. Ahead of you are a stone bridge and a chinquapin oak tree with a sign that reads: “This is a valley where nothing ever happens, where people simply live, where there is sun and slow peacefulness of day following day.”
Dave Spitler, Aullwood Garden’s park manager, says, “This nationally recognized, historical estate garden is rich in plant diversity, habitats and tranquility. Many bird and butterfly species are observed here, and thousands of Virginia bluebells blanket the hillsides in late April.”
Depending upon the week you arrive, you also may see celandine poppies, hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, daffodils, Lenten rose, trillium, bloodroot, winter aconite, blue-eyed Mary or primrose among Aullwood’s offerings. Here, too, are a mature forest, small prairie, picturesque creek and a massive, over-500-year-old sycamore remnant of Ohio’s primeval forest.
At the woodland garden’s center, you view John and Marie Aull’s home of many years, around which for decades they planted many of the forebears of the flowers you see today. Their gardens were deeply personal to them, and you understand why the Aulls loved this place so fiercely and wanted to share it with others during their lifetimes and beyond.
The exposed limestone on the banks of the Stillwater River and fossil imprints tell an earlier history of the Aullwood land that is 450 million years old, according to Paul E. Knoop, Jr., in A Place Called Aullwood, where Native Americans walked and where, nearby, a pioneer village stood before 1795. In 1909, prominent businessman John Aull happened upon, fell in love with and purchased the land, 50 acres of which he later sold to enable the Miami Conservancy District to build the Englewood Dam, Knoop noted, and 100 acres of which would become the Aulls’ home in 1923.
Fencing off 70 acres for their farm, they worked together to take remaining land, once ravaged, and create a place of beauty. After John’s death in 1955, Marie deeded the farmland to the National Audubon Society to become a premier Audubon environmental education center, keeping the 30-acre Aullwood garden and home, and educating herself about other Audubon Centers and the restoration of damaged or lost wildlife communities.
Later, Marie, whom some have called the godmother of the environmental movement in southwestern Ohio, would save a neighboring farm from commercial development and gift it to the National Audubon Society to become a working farm for children. In 1977, she donated her house, garden and a maintenance endowment to what later became Five Rivers MetroParks, with the provision that she could live at Aullwood Garden until her death, which occurred in 2002. Aullwood would face other challenges from commercial development, but today it is totally surrounded by parkland and hosts some 10,000 visitors each year.
Since 1970, Carol Siyahi Hicks has lived and worked in Greater Dayton as a journalist, national literary magazine editor, communications and marketing professional, author and most recently at The Dayton Foundation as the vice president of public relations and marketing. Her book, Gifts from the Garden, has a local setting and is a philosophical and joyful look at gardening, nature and life.