Team helps VA Grotto Gardens
Volunteer keeps space welcoming and weed-free.
VA garden volunteers Susan Baker, Karen Moody and Susan Witherspoon come to the grotto after working in the gardens, while Bob Neff hovers on the hillside digging out vines and weeds.

Miamisburg resident and master gardener Bob Neff had taken a Dayton Veterans Administration grounds tour and seen the area where the Grotto Gardens had been, and, in 2012, talked a few people into attempting restoration.

“So much of the garden area was overgrown, but, after we began, the more we cleared away, the more we uncovered and discovered,” Neff said.

Excited by their discoveries and seeing photos of what it had been when built by Civil War veterans, more volunteers joined in. “We had lots of community support from businesses, organizations, and individuals, too,” Neff said.

“Four Seasons Garden Club got the project started with funding, and Home Depot has been a lucrative sponsor with materials, manpower and funds. 90-to-100 trees have been planted, and the gardens now have a tier one arboretum status, as well as being on the National Register of Historic Places, receiving Landmark status, and a National Historic Presidential Award.”

But, none of these accomplishments would have been possible without Neff and other volunteers, now the Grotto Gardens Volunteers (GGV’s), although most began when the site was an OSU Extension Master Gardeners project.

Susan Baker of Miami Township has worked in the gardens since 2013, brought in by Bob.

“I didn’t know what it was until I visited and fell in love with it,” she said. "I couldn’t resist the history of the gardens, built in 1867.

When Bob started, everything was overgrown, but when he and others pulled everything back and found a wall, others got involved.

“It’s amazing to see the transformation of the gardens over the past seven years,” she said.

The grotto and its gardens have been uncovered, repaired and restored, but still require regular maintenance.

Karen Moody started volunteering the year after work was underway. “There are more than 17 gardens, all named after someone connected with the Civil War or the Veterans Administration.

I plant, weed, mulch, water, and make the signs that identify the plants — it’s a real learning experience, and we try to bring in plants from the Civil War era.”

Moody, who had a stroke and brain aneurism, had to be off for more than a year recuperating, then went right back to the gardens.

“It was such a joy to get back outside in the gardens, to work with other people and see the gardens bringing joy to others,” said the Dayton DeWeese- Ridgecrest Area resident.

“This is my second year,” said Kettering resident Maura Boesch.

“My husband’s a vet, and I wanted to make the garden a pleasant area for veterans and their families — they deserve it.”

“We have leaders who purchase plants and divvy up jobs,” said Sue Howorth, another Kettering resident who’s been involved since the beginning.

"Susan Baker and Susan Witherspoon are leaders on Tuesdays, and I’m the Wednesday leader.

In addition to those of us who started as master gardeners, we have people from the VA volunteer services. A lot want to give back to the military, as well as those who have been in the military themselves.

“Since retirement, this gives me a chance to work in a peaceful place with nice people. I like to see staff coming here for breaks, family members of those getting treatment and veterans stopping by — this is a healing place.”

Volunteers range in age from their 50′s to 80′s. Neff is 87, but can still be found hanging on the cliff over the grotto digging out weeds.

“We’ll be cleaning out annuals and containers until the end of October,” said Baker. "If anyone would like to join us, they only need show up on a Tuesday or Wednesday from 9 a.m.- noonish. For questions, contact us at Garden697grotto@gmail. com. We’ll start working in the gardens again mid-April.

“We’re also working on fundraisers for the Grotto Gardens — a 2021 Calendar and sets of notecards. Contact us for more information on those items,”

Baker said.

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