Cincinnati Zoo hosts Sustainable Urban Landscape Symposium for nature lovers in the Tri-State

Urban gardening growing trend in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Zoo’s mission this year: They want people to know they’re more than just a zoo.

Despite the impending winter weather conditions, Tri-State gardeners are looking ahead to spring. Dozens of Tri-State residents filed the Frisch's Theater of the Harold C. Schott Education Center at the Cincinnati Zoo Thursday to listen to experts discuss urban gardening.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden held their third annual Sustainable Urban Landscapes Symposium to discuss the specifics of how to garden around the center of a metropolitan city in Ohio. The discussion with state and local experts was a part of their Excellence in Horticultural Education Symposium Series.

This series is made possible by the zoo's educational department, which is celebrating it's 40-year anniversary this year. The zoo is on a mission, not only to educate but to make a social impact.

"We're the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden," Scott Beuerlein, horticulturist for the gardens, said during the introduction of the symposium, urging the audience to refer to the zoo as a two-part name, not just a zoo.

The botanical gardens have more than 3,000 plants. This spring, there will be 80,000 colorful tulips on display throughout the zoo. In addition, they have a "go green" garden, butterfly garden, native plant garden, botanical center filled with some exotic plants and an African violet display.

For the symposium, nine experts from across the state discussed aquaponics, integrated pest management, gardening for pollinators, threats to pollinators, sustainable success with fruit, the importance of tree planting, advantages of tree liners, community forestry and how healthy urban environments link to our well-being.

The lecture, intended to educate those involved in the urban agriculture field, was broke down into 30- to 50-minute increments. Each expert spoke on a topic they are personally and professionally invested in.

As a part of the zoo's mission to create awareness of their flourishing botanical garden and sustainable ecosystems, they created a "backyard aquaponics system" that began in the summer of 2013. Encased in glass walls next to the Basecamp Cafe, big blue culture tanks hold white catfish that help make lettuce. 

How does that work? To put it simply, it’s the progression of hydroponics where fish feces are filtered through a bio-filtration system and used to create nutrients for plants. Microgreens can be created from this system.

Dan Divelbiss, founding member of Waterfields, LLC., said his company sells hyperfresh microgreens, created from a similar system, to area restaurants such as Boca. This concept isn’t new, he said, as we look back in history to floating, raised beds in Mexico. The system at the zoo is made from common materials – as part of a larger effort to “go green.” 

A handful of experts overlapped in topics centered on our buzzing friends, the bees, and why gardeners should be mindful of them.

Denis Ellsworth, of the Ohio State University Department of Entomology, said urban gardeners play a "vital role in the conservation of our much-needed pollinators including bees, birds and butterflies."

By creating corridors in your yard, planting specific native flowers and designating some time and effort, gardeners can positively impact the survival of bees, she said.

As for planting, Dr. Gary Gao, an entertaining speaker and associate professor at OSU, discussed the trees to plant for sustainable fruit growth. He said fruit crops can be incorporated into any landscape, but it’s important to choose a variety that is disease resistant.

“Growing an apple tree is like playing golf. You don’t have to be good at it and it costs a lot,” Gao said, as the audience chuckled. 

Experts made note that creating or sustaining an agricultural ecosystem is vital to our future. Without our pollinators, our food production decreases as honey bees are directly responsible for fruit and vegetable production, according to Ellsworth.

Joe Boggs, professor of entomology at OSU, explained the importance of the small things, such as insects.

Entomophobia, or insectophobia, is the specific fear of insects. Some view insects as pests, but there is a clear difference between the two. It’s important to not kill insects as they are “key organisms in all terrestrial ecosystems,” Boggs said.

Experts made note that creating or sustaining an agricultural ecosystem is vital to our future. Without our pollinators, our food production decreases as honey bees are directly responsible for fruit and vegetable production, according to Ellsworth.

Without proper pest management, we could be killing the wrong insects, those that play critical roles in the functionality of our ecosystems.

As Boggs pointed out, “If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos,” as quoted from Edward O. Wilson, an American biologist. Boggs used the quote as the revolving point to his pest management lecture.

For more information on educational programs, visit the

Cincinnati Zoo website .

Follow Jane Andreasik on Twitter: @jandreasik.

Print this article Back to Top


or Subscribe now so you can share your opinion! It’s only a penny for a month trial.