This afternoon, I meandered down State Routes 161 and 4, then west on the National Road, to Aullwood Garden MetroPark in Englewood, near Dayton. There, I not only admired plantings of native and cultivated flowers, but also learned more about the couple who once made the property their home.
Although Dayton businessman John W. Aull (1866-1955) successfully presided over a paper and box company that specialized in florist boxes, he loved being outdoors most of all. When he wasn’t astride a horse, the bachelor took Sunday bike rides to neighboring cities with fellow members of the Dayton Bicycle Club.
In 1907, Aull bought a 150-acre farm and a one-room cabin in a woodland bordering the Stillwater River, north of Dayton. In March 1913, the river rose to about 25 feet, flooded the farm and completely surrounded the cabin. (A red dot on a Bur oak on the property is a striking indication of how high the water rose.) After that historic event, Aull helped to raise money for a flood control project for the Miami River Valley. The Miami Conservancy District was formed two years later.
After a year of courting, the couple married on June 23, 1923. The bride was 26; the groom was 57. The Aulls decided to live on the farm year-round, so the cabin was remodeled and expanded to include a garage and a swimming pool. Inside, plaster motifs of owls and bats border the ceilings of the living and dining rooms.
Small stained glass windows for the home were made in Dayton and feature several charming motifs, including an owl, a Boxer, and a squirrel presiding in the upper window of a Dutch door. Bookshelves are lined with the Aulls’ collection of phonograph records, introductory works on astronomy and geology, and favorite classics like Beverley Nichols’ A Village in a Valley and Belles on Their Toes, by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. I also leafed through copies of A Birdwatcher’s Cookbook, The Art of Arranging Flowers by Constance Spry, and American Homes of Today by Augusta Owen Patterson.
The first floor of the home also featured a built-in desk and a sunroom with a picture window. A luxurious sleeping porch lined with bookshelf window seats is on the second floor.
The Aulls made growing wildflowers their shared passion. They created wild and cultivated flower gardens, filled with hepaticas, Dutchman’s breeches, daffodils, spring aconites, hellebores, over 30 varieties of hostas, hyacinths and Virginia bluebells. “Mary Todd” daylilies, phlox, hydrangeas, “Cheddar Pink” dianthus, butterfly weed, Lanceleaf coreopsis, Beautyberry and wild bee balm. The garden also includes Blue-eyed Mary, Mr. Aull’s favorite flower. E. Lucy Braun, a noted botanist and forest ecologist who taught Mrs. Aull at the University of Cincinnati, contributed Celandine poppy seeds to Aullwood’s gardens.
Japanese painted ferns border the spring water-fed pond where Mr. Aull liked to swim in the morning. Trees on the property include Bottlebrush buckeye, Goldenrain tree, French lilacs, Dawn redwood, and at least 12 varieties of hardwood trees, including sycamores. A rock garden includes Kenilworth ivy and hardy begonias. Bluebirds nest in Aullwood’s prairie meadow, while Siline and Violas bloom amid Knock Out roses.
After Mr. Aull died at age 89, Mrs. Aull asked the National Audubon Society if it would be interested in the fenced-off property around her home and garden as a plant and wildlife sanctuary. She donated the 70-acre farmland to the Audubon Society in 1956. An environmental education center called Aullwood Audubon Center was dedicated on November 2, 1957. In the spring of 1960, work began on recreating a 10-acre tallgrass prairie, filled with more than 100 species of prairie grasses and wildflowers. A neighboring property became the Aullwood Children’s Farm and was dedicated on October 7, 1962. It included a barn, sugarhouse, springhouse, fruit trees, a wild berry patch, beehives, black walnut trees, and an herb garden. The children’s farm was combined with the Aullwood Center in 1978, and is now called the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm.
In 1977, Mrs. Aull donated her home, her 30-acre garden and a maintenance endowment to the Dayton-Montgomery County Park District, now known as Five Rivers MetroParks. She continued to live on the property until her death in 2002.
To learn more about Aullwood, read A Place Called Aullwood in Southwestern Ohio: Its Flowers, Woodlands and Meadows, by Allan L. Horvath and Paul K. Knoop, Jr., edited by Gail Horvath.
Upcoming free Sunday afternoon programs at Aullwood Garden MetroPark include a program focusing on Aullwood’s trees (August 18), Aullwood in autumn (September 15), and Aullwood’s fall colors (October 20), among others. The Aulls’ home is only open during certain programs, so if you’d like to see it, plan your visit accordingly.