Adolph Strauch: Great Garden Design in Clifton & Beyond

By Steve Schuckman

This article was first published in the Summer 2022 Clifton Chronicle.

Adloph Strauch and his family are buried at Spring Grove on an island in the lake near the entrance to the cemetery.

A chance meeting in London in 1851 began a relationship that shaped the way we experience parks and gardens in Cincinnati. Robert Bonner Bowler (owner of a Clifton estate that became Mt. Storm Park) was visiting the World Exposition at London’s Crystal Palace when he met Adolph Strauch, a Prussian gardener. During their garden tour conversation, Bowler invited Strauch to visit him in Cincinnatiif he was ever in America. Not long after, Strauch indeed did visit America. While waiting to change trains in Cincinnati for a cross-country trip, he recalled Bowler’s offer. He visited Bowler, who in turn invited him to stay to design the landscape of his estate. The master gardener decided that Cincinnati would be his new home, and the restas they sayis history.

Strauch (1822-1883) had studied in Vienna and worked at the Schonbrunn Palace gardens. The form and beauty he introduced at Bowler’s estate was noticed, and many wealthy Cincinnati residents contracted Strauch to redesign their own properties. It seemed everyone wanted a Strauch design, which eliminated fences and created flowing landscapes of lawns with stands of trees that framed views. He designed the grounds of Henry Probasco’s estate at Oakwood and George Schoenberger’s estate at Scarlet Oaks, among others. Though these landscapes are long gone, Probasco’s house remains on West Cliff Drive, and Schoenberger’s remains at Scarlet Oaks. 

Just three years after settling in Cincinnati in 1851, Strauch was hired to redesign and redefine the landscape in Spring Grove Cemetery, where he later became superintendent in 1859. His hand can be seen in the winding roads, lakes, the groupings of plantings, and his open lawn design, which became a model for other “garden” cemeteries that followed. He eliminated fencing and railings between plots to create a free-flowing design of space that he called a “landscape lawn plan,” introducing plants from around the world. He also designed other important cemeteries, including Forest Lawn in Buffalo and Oak Woods in Chicago. While still working at Spring Grove, Strauch became superintendent of parks (1871-1875) and designed Eden Park and Burnet Woods. 

Due in large part to Strauch’s work, Clifton became known as a garden spot of America, and our hilltop community took on the look of a single large park. An 1875 publication described Clifton as “…hill, dale, lawn, ravine, field and forest, interspersed with bright evergreens and shrubbery, blossom with shady nooks and sunny glades in which nestle the roomy, cool verandas and graveled walks of the fine homes of Clifton.” Strauch talked of his own designs as expressing “cheerfulness, luxuriance of growth, shade, solitude and repose amid scenery designed to imitate rural nature.” Other than the “Temple of Love” – an elegant domed landmark that covers the cistern over a reservoir that watered the gardens and greenhouses of the Bowler estate – little remains of Strauch’s landscape design there today. A recent effort to rejuvenate the park’s landscaping is inspired by the precepts of Strauch’s work.

Map Showing Closure

Temporary Closure of Burnet Woods Drive

The Cincinnati Parks Department has announced a temporary closure of Burnet Woods Drive. It will be effective June 29, 2020. Below is their communication on it, and their plans for feedback after a 90 day period. We will share the Cincinnati Parks Department survey with the Clifton community when it come out so everyone has adequate time to share feedback. Please note that Brookline Drive is and has been closed to through traffic for many years.

Burnet Woods Capital Campaign

The Cincinnati Park Board and Parks Foundation are excited to have received seed funding for a restricted fund to support the restoration and enhancement of Burnet Woods. This funding will kick off a 5-year capital campaign to raise the funds that are desperately needed to restore the park.

You are invited on Thursday, February 7th at 6pm to 8pm at the Trailside Nature Center in Burnet Woods for an informational evening with drinks and appetizers to unveil the campaign. Please feel free to share this invitation with any of your friends and neighbors who love our park and want to be part of making it the crown jewel of Clifton. 

The establishment of this restricted fund and the campaign are critical as prior to its creation there was no way to donate specifically for the restoration and enhancement of Burnet Woods. This is our opportunity as a community to come together in solidarity with the common a goal of making the park the best it can be for flora, fauna, fishermen/women, birds, bees, concrete slide lovers, bird watchers, invasive species-haters, outdoor lunch takers, yogis, concert-goers, hikers, and people that live, work and study in Clifton.

If you have questions, prior to the event, Jennifer H. Spieser’s (Executive Director of Cincinnati Parks Foundation) information can be found below and she is copied on this email.

Please RSVP to Bettina Bellucci by Tuesday, February 5th at bettina@cincinnatiparksfoundation.org.

Jennifer H. Spieser, Executive Director
Cincinnati Parks Foundation | 421 Oak Street, Cincinnati, OH, 45219
Office: (513) 861-0023, ext. 16 | Cell: (513) 515-1495
www.cincinnatiparksfoundation.org