Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens is experiencing its own miniature version of climate change.
Part of the historical estate’s Corbin Conservatory has been transformed into a tropical oasis called the Garden Under Glass, a steamy showcase populated by exotic plants from around the world. The public will get a chance to visit when Stan Hywet opens for the season Tuesday.
The new garden occupies the Palm House Conservatory, part of the larger Corbin Conservatory complex. The glass palm house is a replica of one built for Stan Hywet’s original occupants, rubber magnate F.A. Seiberling and his family, and the new garden brings the space more closely in line with the original building’s use.
The Seiberlings used their conservatory to grow tropical plants and citrus before the fruit was readily available in the North, said Tom Hrivnak, Stan Hywet’s director of horticulture. They also entertained there on occasion, and greenhouse manager Pat Henson noted they probably also grew flowers for displaying in the Manor House year round.
“It was a sign of their station in life,” said Donna Spiegler, Stan Hywet’s communications manager.
In recent years the reconstructed conservatory has been home to a butterfly exhibit, events such as teas and receptions and a few temporary exhibits. But those uses brought some challenges.
The conservatory was too warm to be a suitable place for events, Henson said, and plant debris sometimes dropped into the food. Using it as exhibit space involved the expense of changing those exhibits, Hrivnak noted.
The new Garden Under Glass, on the other hand, is permanent. Most of the cost of the garden was covered by the David C. and Mary S. Corbin Foundation, which had funded the building’s construction eight years ago.
“They were more than happy to put it back to where it [the original conservatory] was,” Hrivnak said.
The garden is made up of planting beds with a walkway winding through them and a waterfall splashing into a bed of pebbles in one corner. Two royal palm trees graze the glass ceiling — at least for a year or so, until they become too tall, Hrivnak said.
The existing floor was pulled up in places to accommodate the beds, and 51 tons of stone were brought in to accent them.
Stan Hywet’s horticultural staff hand-mixed the soil from half perennial soil and half sand. They hauled the ingredients in wheelbarrows, Hrivnak said, and mixed them together in the beds to provide the fast-draining growing medium the plants need.
Those plants include staghorn ferns, oleander, anthurium, bird of paradise, tropical pitcher plants and camellias — specimens from such areas as South America, Africa, the Mediterranean, Florida and Mexico.
Many of the plants were already owned by Stan Hywet and kept in its greenhouses. One of those longtime residents is a sizable blue agave with a spiky bulk that belies its name, Baby.
The agave was given to Stan Hywet by a woman who for years had hauled it into her garage every winter and back out every summer, Henson said.
“She just made it in the door there,” Henson said of Baby. “So she’s permanent, because we can’t get her out.”
Providing the natural music to accompany the plant display is the waterfall, created by Stow company Complete Outdoor Installation. Its owner, dry stone mason Zach Goebelt, has done stone work previously on the Stan Hywet grounds.
Look closely, and you just might notice a plastic rat peeking out from an opening in the rocks at the waterfall’s base. The rat, named Wilbur, has been hanging around since it was used in an old Christmas display, and Henson just couldn’t resist putting it to a new use.
“There was that hole,” she said with a sly smile, “and I figured he should have a place to live.”
Fake rodents aside, the garden is expected to be a place of respite for Stan Hywet’s visitors.
“It’s peaceful and calm in here,” Spiegler said. “… I just want them to go home with a good feeling.”
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.