Midsummer can sometimes challenge our enjoyment of outdoor walks, what with the mugginess we had earlier in July and the mosquitoes that are now taking over the world.
There are rewards along with the regrets. Let’s look at a few recent walks, from the woodsiness of Johnson Woods Nature Preserve near Orrville to the County Line Rails-to-Trails walk near Rittman, to landscape visits in Holmes County communities.
At Johnson Woods, cardinal flowers were in bright red bloom, chipmunks were clucking, mushrooms and other fungi were in full fledge with recent rains and the boardwalk was a pleasant way to take a walk without getting muddy. The idea in a nature preserve is to stay on the boardwalk and admire the nearby woods without too much encroachment. This is fortuitous, of course, since it avoids contact with a couple of banes of botany, namely poison ivy and — stinging nettle.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is an innocuous-looking plant with clusters of tiny flowers in the axils of leaves. The leaves and the stems pack quite a punch, though, with numerous hairs, many of which have leaves that act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamines if grasped, and subsequent torturous itching with red rashes and skin bumps.
At Johnson Woods, stinging nettles will not affect you if you stay on the boardwalk, but on hikes where you walk through the woods, either learn to identify this plant or wear long pants rather than shorts, and keep your hands away from the nettles.
Of course, most plants at Johnson Woods were pure pleasure, from sour gums that were just starting their usual dropping of a few scarlet leaves that are an early harbinger of fall color to come, to the many beech, maple and oak trees. Overarching a bench along one of the junctures of the short loop at Johnson Woods was a lovely American hornbeam tree, Carpinus carolinianum.
The paved 7-mile County Line Trail between Rittman and Creston is part of the Rails to Trails of Wayne County system and is used by a variety of walkers, bicyclists and skateboarders. Rails to Trails is a wonderful way to get exercise, see the countryside and enjoy a variety of trailside flowers, trees and shrubs. There were walnut trees, catalpa trees and trees-of-heaven and raspberry bushes much beloved by foragers in early July.
There were corn and soybean fields, the southern edges of apple orchards, and loads of flowers, some considered roadside and farmland invasives, including Queen Anne’s lace and teasel, which were nevertheless quite beautiful. Check out the Queen Anne’s lace, also known as wild carrot, with its frilly flower umbels, many of which have a tiny purple floret in the center of the flower head. The conelike architecture of teasel (Dipsacus species) with lavender blossoms and upturned bristly bracts is truly spectacular up close.
While walking the trail, there were also pastoral scenes of barns and tractors, of cows wallowing in trailside waters, bucolic streams and the sounds of frogs and peepers, and of course, the lonely sounds of trains regularly rattling by to locations imagined. Evening sunsets turn cloudscapes into mountains of fanciful design.
Japanese beetles feed unfettered on woodside plants. Yellowpoplar weevils feed on the tulip-shaped leaves of Liriodendron tulipifera. Pokeberry flowers change from creamy and frilly white to inky blue-black berry-like fruits not to be eaten.
From woodlands to trails, we go to walks in Ohio’s No. 1 tourist location, the communities of Holmes County. I did some diagnostic troubleshooting this week with horticulturists with the Grasshopper Group, Kim and Chad Kellogg and one of their employees. We walked and found ash trees, some healthy and some stressed and with borer damage, yet not exotic emerald ash borers which attack healthy trees.
We saw linden trees and crab apples, lawns of emerald green and flower gardens of bright colors, unaffected this year by the stress of dry conditions so common last summer. There were literally thousands of marigolds and begonias and ageratum outside the Farmstead Restaurant in Millersburg.
It was a quilt garden installed by Grasshopper, with flowers arrayed in the pattern of an Amish quilt. I was ignorant to the popularity of such gardens. Check it out, both nearby and in what Kim Kellogg described to me as — the famed Amish quilt gardens of Elkhart, Ind.
Next time in Elkhart (also famed as “the RV Capital of the World”), I will walk from garden to garden, from quilt to quilt. I may ride to Elkhart, but once there, as Welsh hobo poet William Henry Davies penned:
“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
‘Ride,’ Pleasure said;
‘Walk,’ Joy replied.”
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write: Jim Chatfield, Plant Lovers’ Almanac, Ohio State University Extension, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.