Welcome to the Ohio Governor's Residence Museum and Heritage Gardens
Keeping up with the Stricklands:
governor's gardens, mansion go green

Story by Natalie Walston
Photos by Megan Nadolski

Reprinted from Our Ohio magazine, "keeping up with the stricklands," (june/july/august 2007 issue).


The Stricklands want their new residence to be more environmentally friendly to lower energy costs and illustrate how Ohioans can conserve energy and resources.

Above: The mansion’s lush pergola leads to the residence’s garden room.

Below: Gov. Ted and first lady Frances Strickland in the residence’s garden.

Governor Ted and First Lady Frances Strickland

inland sea oats, passion flower

Above: inland sea oats, passion flower

Below: milkweed, compass flower

milkweed, compass flower

The Ohio governor’s mansion resembles a European estate, with its Jacobean style English Early Renaissance architecture and winding, themed gardens and stone buildings.

But in the back yard, beyond the white trillium and violets and wisteria, grows corn, soybeans and squash; not only are the crops known as the “three sisters” native to the United States, but now corn and soybeans are helping this country use less foreign oil.

And Ohio’s first lady Frances Strickland wants visitors to learn more about the fuel alternatives such as ethanol and soy biodiesel.

“We are showcasing Ted’s (Strickland) issues on alternative energy sources,” she said while sitting by a window in the residence’s garden room.

The room is filled with lots of color from indoor plants, red pillows and a circular stained-glass remnant from the old Mansfield Reformatory. It has spacious views of the gardens in the back yard and a stone walkway where birds and squirrels fight for the same feeders.

“I’m still learning the names of things out there,” she said after pointing out the mansion’s long pergola, which is an arbor formed of horizontal trelliswork supported on columns or posts.

The new first lady, who is a Kentucky native, is also getting used to the vast gardens planted by previous administrations. The various flowers and plants in the gardens at the executive mansion are native to Ohio, thanks to former Ohio first lady Hope Taft’s efforts to create a heritage garden. In 2000, Taft began to turn the suburban back yard into individual replica gardens that showcase Ohio’s diverse geographical regions and the many plants that inhabit the state.

There are also other attractions: a sand dune taken from the shores of Lake Erie boasts native plants, while a cranberry bog mimicking kettle lakes left by retreating glaciers fills a renovated fish pond.

Residence horticulturist Rick Stanforth said when young students tour the grounds they not only learn about Ohio’s geography, but they are “challenged to think about agriculture.” Stanforth said he is working with Ohio State University on an outdoor learning center to inspire young minds of students who may be working with crops in making corn-based polymers or genetically modified wheat.

There were plots in the gardens for crops before the Stricklands moved in, and the fresh vegetables and fruit are used in the kitchen, just as the Tafts did.

But the Stricklands’ agriculture background – Frances is the daughter of a dairy farmer while Ted grew up in rural Ohio – has put an emphasis on such crops.

“We want people to know what agriculture is all about,” said Mrs. Strickland.

And, in keeping with a trend they began while Ted was in Congress, the Stricklands are using their own money to buy the food that they consume. While serving in Congress, Ted refused wage hikes and health insurance because of his constituents in a poor area of southern Ohio. There is also a “row for the hungry” in the back yard, with the fresh crops going to feed the poor.

A green example

The Stricklands want their new residence to be more environmentally friendly to lower energy costs and illustrate how Ohioans can conserve energy and resources.

Their plans include installing a porous brick driveway. Water runoff from the driveway will be recycled to water the gardens.

Mrs. Strickland said she and her husband are looking into geothermal energy, which is energy derived from the ground. According to the Geothermal Resources Council, it’s the thermal energy contained in the rock and fluid (that fills the fractures and pores within the rock) in the earth’s crust. Direct use involves using the heat in the water directly (without a heat pump or power plant) for such things as heating buildings and greenhouses.

“We would like to be energy neutral,” Mrs. Strickland said, “and possibly add energy back to the grid.”

While converting to greener energy could be expensive, it’s an investment that will soon pay off in the form of lower energy costs.

The Stricklands also want to look into installing solar shingles and green roofs to trap energy generated by the sun. The Tafts began a similar project in 2003 with the installation of a solar electricity-generating system on the roof of the old carriage home that now houses the Ohio Highway Patrol. Sixty 50-watt solar panels create energy that is used as a supplemental electricity source and primary security backup in the event of a blackout.

Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of Energy Services Dale Arnold said having a home in the heart of an urban neighborhood generating some of its own power is a great example of what people can do in their own homes to cut down on energy costs.

“Having on-site generation mixed with electricity coming from a utility gives the homeowner several options to control energy costs,” Arnold said.

Community involvement

While Frances Strickland makes some changes to personalize the mansion, from changing wall color to changing borrowed works of art, she is always aware the home belongs to the state.

“It’s a very beautiful place and there are a lot of people who have taken interest in the gardens,” she said. “I want to think of ways to keep it that way and make it more elegant.”

She’s asked former first lady Hope Taft to chair an advisory committee to do just that, adding that the heritage garden was Taft’s vision.

But expanding the agricultural garden is the Strickland vision, and, with an estimated 20,000 people touring the mansion and gardens each year, she hopes they will begin to see the future for modern houses and crops.

“The house should be the podium for cutting-edge technology. We need to show Ohioans what we can do,” Mrs. Strickland said.

Take a virtual tour of the Governor’s mansion gardens.

Thanks to Our Ohio magazine for permission to reprint this article. To comment on this article, contact info@ourohio.org. Visit the Ohio Farm Bureau's Our Ohio web site for more information on agriculture and gardening in Ohio.

Ohio Governor’s Residence and Heritage Garden
358 North Parkview Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43209
Phone: 614-644-7644 Fax: 614-252-7076