Right now is a good time for landowners and city folk alike.  The weather is finally cooling, there’s been plenty of rain, and soybeans and corn are just beginning to yellow.  It’s a small pocket of calm before fall crops come off, and you might be looking for a nice, but low key to visit, a place close enough that you won’t spend much gasoline, but one that you’ll enjoy thoroughly.  Kingwood Center in Mansfield (Ohio) is one such place, and while it’s lovely in spring tulip time, and nice all summer, it’s in September and October that this wonderful area will truly gladden the eye.

By way of background, Kingwood Center is 47 acres of gardens made open to the public by Charles King, who purchased the land in the early 1900’s, built his imposing mansion in 1926, and left a trust that would maintain the acreage for public usage upon his death in 1952.  Rarely has 47 acres brought so much pleasure to so many.

In Mansfield, the estate lies just off Trimble Road between 4th Street and Park Avenue West, and visitors will find a large paved parking lot at the end of a winding little blacktop road that exits from Trimble.  It’s important for those in frugal circumstances to understand that Kingwood can be visited completely free of charge.  No toll for parking, no admission, no “suggested contribution”, just walk into the grounds, stay as long as you like, visit as often as you wish.  And there’s lots to see.

Many of the people who visit here like to take a leisurely walk through the woods.  The wooded area closest to the parking lot has a nice gravel path with benches here and there to allow rest, contemplation, and a chance to watch birds and busy grey and fox squirrels.  There’s a tiny creek, a fountain or two, and lots of old trees from beech to oak and maple, and exotics like larch and hemlock.  A nice place to enjoy wilds in the city and relax.

Kids will enjoy the woods, but they’ll enjoy even more a duck pond very near the parking lot that holds dozens of mallard ducks, black swans,and the occasional wood duck or teal.  Take some quarters to buy corn and duck pellets from machines there and let the little guys toss food to the ducks which gather and gabble madly as they dip for morsels. 

The herb garden just below the manor house is always one of my first stops.  Why?  Because it smells great!  The garden is built around brick walkways and stone steps, and holds everything from pot marigolds, mint, and saltillo sage to medicinal geraniums and crepe myrtle.  From the herb garden it’s just a few steps to the big house, and for everyone from farmers to flower lovers and gardeners the house is worth several hours visit.

Not for its gift shop or rooms filled with antiques, but for its upstairs library which encompasses several rooms.  There are literally hundreds of books here, and dozens of magazines, and whatever your problem or interest there’s an answer or information somewhere.  There are books on weeds and garden design, books on fruit raising and fruit pests, more on bromelids and cactus, vegetables and berries, chrysanthums and vegetables.  You can pick up a library card right at the library, and check out books for up to three weeks, or just sit in comfortable chairs and browse through publications of interest.

Take time to just wander around the grounds too, and admire banks of flowers.  You’ll find little alcoves here and there with benches where you can sit and listen to splashing fountains and watch bees and hummingbirds among the flowers.  Some bring lunch here, finding a welcome oasis from work for an hour, and an answer to the mornings stress.  Others just stroll along, admiring beds of  Japanese stewartha and globe amaranth, wegala and unusual coleus.  Your choice.

My favorite spot is always the greenhouse, great right now, even better when winter snows blow cold and wet.  The greenhouse is shaped like a horseshoe, and the first room is the “cactus room” where the air is hot and dry and saguaro, barrel cactus, and prickly pear thrive, along with such plants as agave and jade trees.  The second room, at this time of year, is filled with coleus, strange Brugmansia with pink trumpet-shaped flowers, and daisy trees.  This room will fill your nostrils with pleasant scents.

The next room is packed with mums maturing for later in the fall, then there’s a sales room where visitors can buy plants from cyclamens and cactus to iris bulbs and mums.  Next is a nursery room with little clematis, poinsettas, and banana plants, and finally the high point of my visit, the tropical room.  Here rise tall banana plants with bunches of green bananas, mirror plants, coffee trees, and mistletoe figs.  This room almost makes the outside area filled with roses, more flowers and a small lake anti-climatic.  But not quite.     

It’s a good place to go, this Kingwood Center, and well worth a modest drive.  Pick a cool, crisp, sunlit day, pack a little lunch, and spend some hours in a pretty place.  A VERY pretty place.

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