Sweeter Than His Chocolate

17 Sep Sweeter Than His Chocolate

Sweeter Than His Chocolate


Milton Hershey, I imagine, was one of those people who, if you were lucky enough to meet, would have had a profound impact on your life. Not because of his fame or money, but rather because of his honest, wholesome outlook on life. Everyone knows about his famous chocolate bars, but how many know of his life’s work that also included a school he founded for orphans or the city he created to improve his workers’ lives. A man, whose ambitions took him from poverty to philanthropy also, along the way, developed a love for gardening.

Hershey, it is said, closely supervised the landscaping of his grounds. His wife, Catherine Hershey, “shared her husband’s passion for gardens, making a lasting contribution to the town of Hershey through her interest in landscaping and the preservation of trees.” I had not been to Hershey Park in the last 25 years and remembered very little. However, a family vacation to the park gave my wife and I a chance to relive our childhood again through our daughter’s eyes. While her interpretation of the park was similar to mine at her age, enamored with the rides and chocolate factory, my views were now focused at the plants, which help frame the park and chocolate factory. Immediately outside the famous chocolate factory is a standing grove of Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). A genus, which seems to have been around since time began, has attributes which are attractive year round and is an obvious choice to help provide shade in a short period of time. Another standout for me, close to the “Kissing Tower” was my sought after Ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba). I knew Mr. Hershey would show good taste and incorporate a Ginkgo somewhere on his grounds. He did not disappoint! And while his amusement park is littered with some outstanding deciduous trees and conifers, his real genius was to be found across the street in the Hershey Gardens.

The Hershey Gardens were opened in 1937 and in time grew to 23 spectacular acres. In lieu of sponsoring a national rosarium in Washington D.C., Hershey opted to create a garden in Hershey, Pennsylvania where the community could enjoy themselves. Once you pay your admission, the Children’s Garden is just one of the many “Theme Gardens” you will encounter. Truly an educational garden, the 30 smaller gardens that comprise the Children’s Garden simply make learning fun. The human sundial, the Butterfly House, the ABC Border and Chocolate Lane all help with colors, counting and the ABC’s. Combine this with whimsical names like Chocolate Vine (Fiveleaf Akebia), White Chocolate Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia ‘White Chocolate’) and a Poppy named ‘Royal Chocolate’ and you can begin to feel the emersion going on here. Other theme gardens include a perennial, herb, rock, ornamental grass, Bill Bowman (dedicated to the former Hershey Gardens director), Japanese and Rose garden to name most. I must admit, not being a rosarian myself, there was still an admiration for witnessing 5,600 roses representing some 275 varieties that were in bloom the day of my visit. Not to mention the fragrance of such a spectacle! However, I found most of my time well spent divvied up between the Japanese, Arboretum and rock gardens. Each of these gardens, and for that matter every theme garden at Hershey, could be the subject for an article having their own highlights for me. The arboretum was host to some magnificent specimens, but the beehive embedded in the monstrous Common Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) will forever be remembered. The rock garden was home to a Japanese cedar that adorns our house and whose origin I was unaware. Cryptomeria japonica ‘Rein’s Dense Jade’ entombs our backyard, some 54 to be exact, and I have J. Vermeulen and Sons Inc. of Neshanic Station, New Jersey to thank. It seems the “Mother Tree” first discovered in the late 1960’s was dedicated to Hershey Gardens in May 2007 and for this I am extremely grateful. Finally, the Japanese garden! Let me just leave you with this. There are a few of these types of gardens in the United States that you could visit, put this one at the top of your list. A grove of China Fir (Cunninghamia), a California-Nutmeg (Torreya californica) and a sweep of Himalayan Sweetbox (Sarcococca) framing some Dawn Redwoods is enough to fill your day.

Hershey proved to be a wholesome experience entertaining all of us. It brought us back to a more simple time where we could lose ourselves from the pressures of everyday. Experiences built by an honest, hardworking man free of scandals and committed to bettering his world. We should all aspire to be so great!