KIRTLAND -- They say paradise was a garden, and if a garden is your idea of paradise on earth, then Kirtland's Holden Arboretum will soothe your soul and satisfy your senses like a true slice of Eden.
With its 3,446 acres of flowering fauna, rambling forests, peaceful ponds and rare foliage, the Holden Arboretum has provided a gentle haven for nature lovers and seekers of solitude for more than 70 years.
About a 90-minute drive from Youngstown, the arboretum was founded in 1931 and was the dream and vision of Albert Fairchild Holden, a wealthy mining engineer who was an admirer of the well-known Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.
Wanting to develop an arboretum of comparable beauty in the Cleveland area, he set up a memorial fund dedicated to his late wife and daughter and used the money to start the Holden Arboretum.
Donation: After the original site planned for the arboretum proved impractical, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Bole of Kirtland donated 100 acres along Sperry Road in 1931, and the present-day Holden Arboretum was born.
Since then, countless volunteers, benefactors and staff have helped the arboretum grow and flourish into one of northeastern Ohio's most beautiful nature preserves and most respected centers of botanical research.
When visiting the arboretum for the first time, make the visitor center your first stop. At the visitor center, guests will find maps and information to help them plan what trail they will hike first or what garden they will visit first.
Of the arboretum's 3,446 acres, 800 acres are manicured gardens. Included are several theme gardens, such as the Helen S. Layer Rhododendron Garden that will take your breath away when in full bloom; the delicate Myrtle S. Holden Wildflower Garden; and the stately Arthur S. Holden Hedge Collection garden.
Features: The arboretum also features several plant collections, and from March to October you are guaranteed to find at least one of the plant collections in bloom.
In late-April, for example, visitors can savor the intoxicating aroma of magnolias as they saunter through the arboretum's magnolia collection.
In May, visitors can enjoy the fragrant, pastel petals of the lilac collection, and during May and June, numerous azaleas will wow visitors with their bright splashes of pink, orange and magenta.
From May to October, the arboretum's butterfly garden, perennial garden and prairie garden attract both people and butterflies to their heaven-scented, sun-drenched borders.
Although some of the plants featured at the arboretum are common varieties found in your very own backyard, many of the arboretum's plants are unique species from China and Korea.
Conservation: The arboretum also specializes in conserving rare Ohio plants and plants that are endangered throughout the United States.
Trees are a top priority at the arboretum as well, and it is home to a 350-year-old white oak, a 250-year-old red oak, numerous nut trees, crabapples, conifers and many rare varieties of trees from the Far East.
But it doesn't matter if you happen to be a serious botanist or someone who just wants to stroll down a peaceful garden path, the arboretum will welcome you into mother nature's tranquil embrace whether you happen to know the difference between a daisy and a dahlia.
The arboretum's numerous lakes and ponds are perfect places to experience this feeling of serenity.
Among the many acres of reflective waters are a manmade lotus lily pond and a natural 15-acre lake that's a great place to sit and watch the ducks and geese float by or see the turtles sun themselves on logs.
Wildlife haven: Of course it's no surprise that the arboretum is not only a haven for people but also for wildlife.
The grounds are teeming with black squirrels, deer and birds of every feather, especially Eastern bluebirds. Since 1965, arboretum staff and volunteers have maintained about 200 bluebird nest boxes, helping the species make a comeback in Ohio.
Today, more than 60 bluebird pairs call the arboretum home, and bird watchers are sure to spot one or two pairs of those sky-colored wings soaring past during their visit.
The arboretum's landscape varies from open fields where bluebirds fly, to manicured gardens, to dense forests, to mountainous trails suited for serious hikers only.
Little Mountain trail, for example, is rocky and steep, full of deep, mysterious crevices and thick with towering pines and hemlocks. Little Mountain is located on the border of Lake and Geauga counties and reaches an elevation of 1,266 feet.
The arboretum owns and preserves a part of Little Mountain, which is considered a restricted natural area and natural history landmark.
Because of its status and its potentially hazardous trails, arboretum visitors should hike Little Mountain trail only with a guide.
Stebbins Gulch, a dramatic ravine created by years of erosion and defined by trickling waterfalls, rushing streams and cool summer temperatures, also is part of the arboretum and a national history landmark.
In summer, the gulch's temperature rarely reaches more than 75 degrees and in winter, steep ravine walls block harsh winds and create a mild climate.
Open all year: But although Ohio winters send the arboretum's scores of blossoms into temporary slumber, the site remains a center of activity even when the snow flies.
Cross-country skiers flock to the arboretum's many trails and hikers bundle up and crunch their way across the frozen landscape.
Besides being a place where visitors can take a hike or a stroll year round, the arboretum is also intended to be a center for education and scientific advancement.
At the arboretum's research facilities, scientists combine genes from plants with superior traits to create hybridized varieties, and more than 15,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade tour the arboretum each year on field trips.
If visitors want to learn more about a particular plant or aspect of the arboretum, they need go no further than its Warren H. Corning Library, which has more than 10,000 volumes and periodicals on horticulture, landscaping and natural history.
The arboretum even offers a one- or two-year study course on horticulture and landscaping.