Serpent Mound inspires earthen front yard art


COLUMBUS — As the son of a Norwegian and a Swede, Donn Young knows all about Norse mythology.

Soon, his neighbors will, too.

Young, inspired by a visit to the Serpent Mound near Peebles, has spent this fall building an earthen version of Jormungandr, the Midgard serpent, in his front yard.

After all, Young lives on Midgard Road in Clintonville.

“Midgard was where humans eked out their wretched existence,” Young said with a laugh. “In landscaping my front yard, I wanted a connection to this mythology.”

Jormungandr slithers about 70 feet from Young’s front porch toward the road, rising 2 feet out of the ground and about 7 feet across at the head.

Young sees the serpent as natural to his neighborhood, which also includes the Norse references Walhalla, Gudrun and Brynhild roads, but he was actually inspired by a landscape about 100 miles away.

Last winter, Young and his daughter, Amanda, traveled to the Serpent Mound Historic Site for the winter solstice. The 1,348-foot-long ancient serpent earthwork, lit up for the event, struck Young so much he was moved to build his own version.

“It was very neat, very dark and moody,” he said. “I thought, ‘I could do a serpent in my yard.’”

After roughing out some drawings, Young contacted the Dublin firm Landscapes by Terra.

“I was like, ‘OK, I don’t ever hear that from clients,’” recalled Collin McMahon, a Terra designer. “But I like to get into jobs like this because they’re new and different. It’s more fun.”

In mythology, Jormungandr, his tale in his mouth, surrounds Midgard, until Thor kills him at the battle of Ragnarok. (Thor’s action cost him his life.)

In Young’s yard, Jormungandr has a more modest task. He snakes down the slope from Young’s house to the road, around a magnolia, an oak and an elm.

The serpent is the centerpiece of a thorough makeover of Young’s front yard, which also includes about 20 limestone and sandstone slabs, and several plants including sumac, bottlebrush buckeye, fotthergilla and snowflake mockorange.

Jormungandr is now just a packed mound of dirt, but in the spring it will be planted with groundcover. Young, who has survived prostate cancer for a decade, wants nothing to do with mowing a yard.

The 70-year-old plans to add a few welded steel “scales” to the serpent but stopped short of his other idea — a gas line allowing Jormungandr to breathe fire.

“I think the zoning folks might draw the line at that,” he said.

Neighbors have spent the past several weeks watching workers transform Young’s front yard from a ground-covered slope into a Norse realm.

“We love it,” said Carlene Palmquist, a neighbor who is also director of the Topiary Park in Columbus. “Landscaping and gardening are such fun arts, especially when people can see what you can do when you think outside the routine.”

The serpent comes naturally to Young, who has devoted much of his time to artistic pursuits since retiring in 2007 as director of the biostatistics center at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Young’s home is furnished with his woodwork, sculpture and pottery, including a striking mosaic of leaf pottery around his fireplace.

He and McMahon expect his new yard to look its best in a few years, as plants mature.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing this in 10 years,” McMahon said. “It will really have an impact for people coming up the road.”

Young acknowledges that at $24,000, his serpent yard isn’t cheap. But it’s his.

“I want something I can enjoy. And hopefully something the neighbors can enjoy.”

Project cost Columbus area man about $24,000

By Jim Weiker

The Columbus Dispatch

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