The Ohio State University Extension Montgomery Master Gardeners have worked very hard to bring the Grotto Gardens on the campus of The Dayton VA Medical Center (DVAMC) back to life. The Master Gardener Volunteers became involved in the Grotto Gardens restoration project after several of our members had a chance encounter with a very persuasive Robert Kineses. Well, we know now that it was very premeditated on Roberts’s part. A small group of Master Gardeners began working there in March 2013 on the perennial garden at the top of the steps. During the process a 150 year old brick walkway was discovered, the first of many discoveries.

The Grotto Gardens Restoration begins

A contractor had done some work the year before, replacing the brick patio area, and they did a beautiful job. They also installed some plant material with questionable results, ferns in full sun and roses in the shade. Much of 2013 was spent cleaning out honeysuckle and poison ivy, and moving the ferns and the roses to more appropriate spots. And the number of volunteers grew. The wall behind the Emma Millar Tranquility and the Thomas Van Horne Natural gardens was so overgrown with honeysuckle that is was a complete surprise.

In fact when I look at the before pictures I have to think that some of my fellow Master Gardeners are either true visionary’s or just plain nuts, but they saw the potential, the promise. And the number of volunteers grew and grew. The winter of 2013-14 was spent planning, designing, researching, and sourcing material.

In the spring of 2014, the renovation exploded. Twenty-two memorial trees were planted by the volunteers, paths installed, gardens planted with plants from our own yards and ones obtained from local nurseries and garden centers that have been very good to us, …..and the honeysuckle was fought, we will probably always have that battle. Annuals were added to provide that burst of color and today you see the results. Now we have over 40 volunteers working here…. giving their time, their talents, their labor and often their plants to make this restoration a reality.

Grotto Gardens Restoration Honored by the State

And their work has not gone unnoticed; last October, this project was awarded Exemplary Restoration Project by the State of Ohio Preservation office.

Even though the volunteers love playing in the dirt and will do so at every opportunity, developing this area is so much more important …..It is for our veterans, the ones that live here or receive treatment here…and their families. If this garden gives just one of them a sense of peace …..then every bruise, every ache, every stitch is worth it.

Many of the MGV and VA volunteers donating our time here are veterans, married to veterans, sons or daughters of veterans or parents of veterans, so this project has gone deep with us. Restoring the Grotto Gardens has not only become a labor of love for us but one of honor, gratitude and respect. The Master Gardeners are in this for the long haul, this has become our garden (sometimes to the detriment of our own). There is something awe-inspiring about performing some of the same tasks that the Civil War Veterans performed in the same place almost 150 years ago……only our equipment is better!

We operate under an unofficial mantra out here:

This Grotto represents a Promise

A Promise that the veterans have made to us and fulfilled to serve and protect

A promise that the Montgomery County Master Gardeners and VA volunteers are making to the veterans to provide a place of serenity and healing

And the Promise of the Grotto to all …for all it has to offer

We have every intention of keeping our promise.


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