Help Me Create a Botanical Garden

Hi, I'm Steve Bennett, and I've been working for several years to create a 40 acre botanical garden, nursery, and orchard of unusual and exotic trees. I have a very large greenhouse. I've been planting and protecting several hundred trees, one by one. Now, thousands of trees and plants are waiting in pots for the next step: the clearing and terracing of hillsides and the encirclement of more than 40 of our 57 acres with a deer fence. This is crucial for the protection of young trees, and the reason I've started this fund-raising page. Once this greater level of protection is in place, this botanical garden will one day be a tranquil, peaceful paradise for everyone to enjoy. There will be a tea house, waterfalls, beautiful trees, and harvests of fruits and teas not easily found in this area. That's the nutshell version of my plan. If you'd like to know more, please read on.

In 1998 I started a vegetable garden. Little did I know then that growing in the soil would be my passion and career. The fascination did not die, but grew through the years. I dreamed about it and experimented, trying things others said couldn't grow. I was saddened when a trial would fail, but the happiest person alive with every success. At first it was just a backyard garden, which took over the other yards and empty fields. The dream grew like a giant bean stalk but was entirely real. Now I am at a threshold; I know my chosen career. I've held on to my passion to build orchards and a nursery, pomegranate terraces and banana fields, greenhouses to produce 100s of pineapples and papaya, greenhouses where all the world can come and see the botanical vastness. I want to build an iconic organic garden where people can come and admire the waterfalls as they sip home-grown tea from inside my Chinese pagoda or view the terraces from above at the Mediterranean-inspired Summerhouse cafe. I want to be efficient and streamline in the protections of my bananas transforming their Thai-inspired Winter storage house into a massive open-air pavilion. I want to market my year-round produce from a downtown store and coffeehouse. And when entering my self-made paradise, massive stone gateways inspired from the temples at Angkor will mark the beginning to the Botanical garden where the roads are lined with palms.

I learned so much on my own from reading endlessly and learning from the experts that crossed my path, even working as an apprentice at a nursery with a focus on all things edible. I received my first citrus tree in 2002, my first fig in 2003, pomegranates in 2004, planted my banana grove in 2006, and began to plant cold-hardy palms in 2008. In 2006 I built, by myself, two greenhouses from kits which were later destroyed by strong winds. From the beginning, I was swept away by all the exotic plants listed in catalogs but I always noticed that so few were reliably hardy. I had to find a way, I had break that invisible wall and grow them anyway. A palm in Florida is among the many, but a palm in Ohio, that is a treasure. As I learned , I found that every family of plants has a few species that do break that wall and survive cold. I envisioned gardens where all these trees and vines and shrubs would be grown together to make a cold-hardy paradise like no one has even seen. Among the more than 200 species of plants I am currently growing, many that are hardy, such as tea, persimmon, some palms, magnolias, and plants that require some outside protection: bananas, more palms, figs, pomegranates, even avocados, to the truly tropical and subtropical in my largest greenhouse measuring 48' long by 30' wide and 18' high. My greenhouse exotics vary from starfruit and mango to papaya and egg fruit, even peanut butter fruit and miracle fruit. Half of the greenhouse is devoted to citrus, and I do believe I have the largest collection in Ohio with more than 75 varieties of citrus alone.

Impossible to fit into a few paragraphs, to learn more about me and my plants please continue reading.

I'm lucky to live on one of the highest hills in the county which means longer growing seasons, full sun all day, and a higher winter low on the coldest night of the year. The view is beautiful, and it will only improve with future botanical development. This land has been in my family since my great-grandparents bought it and called the 57 acres "Sky Ranch." It's become a sanctuary where no matter the issues in life beyond the 57 acres, we have peace here. I'm completely devoted to making this place a paradise.

In just 2010 alone, I planted over 200 trees and perennials from jujubes and mulberries to jasmine, gardenia and Italian stone pine. I have 1,000 trees and plants potted, waiting for the next step. Not very much can go forward, though, until a strong deer fence encloses all acres I intend to develop.

Organic (vegan) growing, sustainability, the long-term results, that is what is important here. In 2002, I was given one of my first citrus trees. I still pick its navel oranges. In 2005, I buried my first fig tree. This ancient method of winter protection results in near-100% success thanks to the warmth of the earth. It was my inspiration to try that with more types of plants here and has resulted in proving every pessimistic gardener wrong. In the spring of 2012, I unearthed the first known avocado to survive an Ohio winter outside. I have become an expert in keeping palms outside through the winter, as well. With only about 30 palm trees outside right now, 100 in pots waiting, my ambitions are far from fulfilled. I want, passionately, to become a major grower of some of the world's least-known plants that are often threatened in their native habitat, but could offer us so much in building a cold-hardy paradise.

My goals may seem lofty, and they will take several years to see complete fruition, but it's not too different from what I have been consistently doing for the last decade.

Within the next year, I hope to have the fence completed and a sizable portion of land cleared for this first cycle of plantings. My focus at the moment is on our south-facing steep hillsides which I intend to terrace like giant stairs, planting mostly tea there, like in Asia. Other mentioned plants will also benefit from terracing here. I will reserve some land at the peak for future development of what I call the "Summer House," an overlook cafe with tower made from recycled materials and Mediterranean-inspired. From high up, I intend to have a 20' waterfall pour into a pond below, surrounded by vining kiwis, tree ferns, and more exotics. On a neighboring slope, I want to build a "Tea House," a small pagoda serving tea grown here, Ohio's only tea plantation. Downhill will be the main banana grove and in the middle, I want to have a small Thailand-inspired winter storage house of the growing banana stalks, which often survive only by lifting in the fall. This storage house will morph every season into a pavilion. Some planting schemes include: an orchard of star anise, a sugarcane field, row after row of the threatened trachycarpus takil, a very hardy Himalayan palm. Districts will be devoted to regions of the world. I already have areas uniquely made up of variegated plants and red-leafed plants, and a South American orchard.

From my youngest years, I have explored this land, including the 400-year-old red oak and giant tulip trees and the paw paw grove along the tiny creek. This is the oldest forest here and will remain that way, but with walking paths and additional plantings of native species.

Ultimately, I want to unite all these gardens, buildings, and concepts to build something that gives back to the world and preserves the pure beauty in nature which often becomes fleeting, thanks to human error. It means the world to me if you choose to support my future endeavors and help make my goals of paradise a reality.

I am only 23 years old, and to a great extent, self-taught. Already, I've done a lot with my life. But I have so many ambitions that are often hampered simply by not enough finances. Yes, choosing to donate helps me, but it also pushes my long-held dream one step closer to reality which I sincerely hope will give back to the world.

When I am in my 40s, I hope to see a plethora of palms here growing strong and tall, daily harvests from the orchards, fields and greenhouses of formerly "impossible" fruit. I want the hill to be a landmark, where anyone can come on a magnificent summer day and say," This is paradise." I want to be the source for that rare plant you've only read about in books. Thank you so much for reading my story. Your consideration to make a donation is greatly appreciated.
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Steven Bennett 
Cambridge, OH
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