Skip to content
Home » Blog » Find Inspiration and Tranquility through Nature at Ohio’s Dawes Arboretum

Find Inspiration and Tranquility through Nature at Ohio’s Dawes Arboretum

 By Dave Zuchowski  photos by Bill Rockwell
One of Six Ponds at the Dawes Arboretum


Looking for a little magic, relaxation and inspiration in my life, I remembered a visit to the Dawes Arboretum many years ago. I recall it as being an enchanting place, a stimulating environment for a tree-lover like myself and a sanctuary for those wanting to get reacquainted with the natural world.

So I hopped in my car with photographer, Bill Rockwell, and we headed west 2 hours from home to Newark, Ohio, and the Dawes Arboretum.

A first sight, the gigantic, 12-foot-tall bamboo bluebird with its red breast and blue wings, greets visitors near the entrance kiosk at the arboretum. It serves as an eye-popping harbinger of good things to come.

Bamboo Blue Bird at the Entrance Kiosk

Located about thirty-five miles east of Columbus, Ohio, the Dawes was established in 1929 by Beman Dawes and his wife, Bertie. The first planned tree planting began in 1917 with 50 sugar maples on 140 acres of the old Brumback Farm. Today, the collection has grown to nearly 16,000 living trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants growing on nearly 2,000 acres.

Just as you’d go to an art museum to visit the Renaissance, Baroque and Impressionist collections, at Dawes you travel from the conifer collection to the oak, beech, holly, buckeye and crabapple collections. Take note that the maple, dawn redwood, buckeye/horse chestnut and witch hazel collections are nationally accredited.

A Glimpse at the Conifer Collection

I began my visit outside the visitors center under a circa 250 to 300 year old American beech, protected by a sturdy wooden fence. There to greet me under the venerable tree, Brent Pickering, senior director of facilities and landscape operation, led me to my first stop, the Azalea Glen, just about at the height of its mid-May bloom.

Regrettably, I’d already missed the peak of daffodil season with its yellow carpet of 3,000 to 5,000 bulbs, providing one of the arboretum’s first mass blooms of spring.

Other flowering plants include lilacs, spirea and ciborium shrubs and crabapple and magnolia trees.

A Graceful Bridge

Further on, the Japanese Garden, designed by landscape architect Dr. Makoto Nakamura in 1963, has what Pickering calls a hide and reveal motif to create an illusion of distance by partially concealing a view or feature to produce an element of surprise.

“Nakamura drew inspiration for the garden from the Grand Canyon,” Pickering said. “The is most evident in the dry landscape (karesansui) leading up to the pond.” Nakamura is now 92 years old and still designing Japanese Gardens.

Of special interest are the dawn redwood grove, said to be the largest outside of China, and the buckeye grove, planted in the shape of the number “17” to commemorate Ohio’s entry to the Union as the 17th state.

Besides a one-acre pond and a “resting house,” the garden holds two truck loads of stone harvested from an area farm and a gravel stream in the Zen Garden raked by hand twice a week.

The Gravel Stream

Dawes has about 12 miles of hiking trails and 4 miles which can be accessed by car. To make getting around easier, Dawes offers mobile apps of the arboretum as well as audio tours.

On a tour, keep a lookout for the Silver Ghost Lacebark Pine, a native of China. The original specimen of this unusual evergreen conifer cultivar with white bark is now 25-30′ tall and was introduced and named by the arboretum in 1996.

Sliver Ghost Lacebark Pine

To help identify the various plants and trees, Dawes maintains one of the best labeling programs in the country. Each plant in the Arboretum has a label that shows its scientific and common names, location, nativity and accession number.

Something for the Guinness Book of World Records is Dawes’ Lettered Hedge, a 2,040-foot-long installation of Woodward American arborvitae that spell out the words Dawes Arboretum in 145-foot letters. Tour takers can park their car near an observation tower erected at the crest of a rise, then climb to the top for a spectacular overview of the lettered hedge, first planted in the 1920s.

The Lettered Hedge from the Observation Platform

In addition to its six ponds, including the 14-acre “Dawes Lake,” the arboretum has a prairie reserve of between 5 and 7 acres, and a “Deep Woods,”  an area with lots of woodland plants.

One of my personal favorite spots is the Bald Cypress Swamp, one of the northernmost native areas of its kind in the nation. Here, visitors can walk  along a boardwalk and keep an eye out for some of the salamanders who inhabit the swamp from late winter through spring. The unusual tree specimens send up knobby off shoots that give the swamp the look of something out of The Hobbit.

The Cypress Swamp

Included in the admission ticket is a 45-minute, guided tour of the 1867 brick farmhouse. Much of the furniture and accessories are original to the Dawes era with other items that were once found in the Dawes family home in nearby Columbus.

The Dawes family can boast some illustrious ancestors. William Dawes rode along with Paul Revere on his infamous midnight ride to warn the colonists that the British were coming. His portrait hangs in the parlor.  Beman Dawes’ older brother, Charles, was Calvin Coolidge’s vice-president and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his work on the Dawes Plan for World War I reparations.

A Stone Walkway Across a Pond

The Arboretum also maintains a Tree Dedication tradition in which nearly 110 famous people such as General John Pershing, Orville Wright, Jesse Owens, and John Glenn have trod the grounds and had trees dedicated in their honor. In the cellar of the farmhouse, visitors will find 111 shovels used by various celebrities to dedicate a tree planting event.

Beman died in 1953, while Bertie passed 5 years later. Their bodies are interred in a mausoleum in the family cemetery on the grounds, that dates back to 1810 and is reputed to be the oldest in Licking County.

In 2016, Dawes Arboretum was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located at 7770 Jacksonville Road SE, the arboretum, is open Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 5 to 15. The guided house tour is included with the admission ticket, but registration is required beforehand. For more information, phone 1-800-44-DAWES or

For more information on the Licking County area go to

Cherry Valley Lodge

For a Place to Stay, the Cherry Valley Hotel, 2299 Cherry Valley Road SE, Newark, Ohio, offers a Dawes Arboretum Package, available Thursday-Sunday with a discounted room rate, a $50 restaurant credit and two tickets to the Dawes Arboretum. The hotel is also dog friendly and features a large outdoor courtyard with a pond with croaking frogs, a gazebo, gorgeous paper bark trees, and wonderful illumination at night.

A Fountain Illuminated at Night

Amenities include indoor and outdoor dining at the Craftsman Kitchen and Terrace Restaurant, the CK Pub, a Starbucks, indoor pool, fitness center and hotel-wide WiFi. Phone 740-788-1200 or

The Gazebo Built Over the Pond

For a Place to Dine, Elliot’s at 16 W. Main St. In Newark, is famous for its wood-fired pizza.

Outside Elliot’s

Don’t overlook other items such as homemade hummus, roasted shishito peppers, salads, subs and sandwiches, street tacos and apple crisp a la mode for dessert.

Street Tacos at Elliot’s

Phone 740-670-8510 or

Apple Crisp

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.