From left, Alaine Bush, Adrienne Gregory and Shirley Hartert clip and prune in preparation for a weekend of garden tours. photo by Ann L. Fouty.
July 04, 2013An overlooked hillside garden at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial has been transformed into a site of beauty.
Volunteer gardeners took a mess of neglected vegetation and created a four-tiered terraced garden installed paths and three benches, providing visitors a tranquil spot to view Lake St. Clair or a place of reflection.
“A number of years ago this hillside was ugly,” said Marieke Allen, the chairwoman of the Veterans Garden Committee of the Grosse Pointe War Memorial. “The stones were helter skelter. There was an elm that had died and all the vegetation was gone and weeds had taken over. The pathway had disintegrated.”
Conversations between Garden Center members and War Memorial staff established the Veterans Garden Committee. It’s purpose was to clean, clear and replant the area on the north side of the War Memorial. Avid gardeners Mary Northcutt and the late Lynn Lutomski-Kiley suggested the area be dedicated to veterans.
In 2009, Master Gardener Shirley Martin put out the call for volunteer gardeners to get the area ship shape.
“We asked for a Master Gardener,” Allen said, “Alaine (Bush) and Debbie (Graffius) answered the call. It was a volunteer basis. It was enormous the number of hours they have worked since 2009.”
“Basically I had to dig up everything,” Bush said. “There was invasive grass, mint and yarrow. We dug up the plants, weeded and replanted, did the newspaper and mulching.”
Instead of bundles of Grosse Pointe News being sent to the recycling plant, the newspapers became a weed deterrent.
Bush spread newspapers 10 sheets thick, overlapping layers by a third. The papers were covered with four inches of mulch.
“If the weeds can’t see the light of day, they won’t grow. They will starve,” she explained. “The newspapers disintegrate in six months.”
With the weeds eliminated, the volunteers planted flora specifically to attract pollinators and birds, Bush explained. Buddjlea, lavender, coreopsis, roses, hosta, peony, hydrangea, iris, kniphofi, perennial geraniums and anemia, among others, were planted.
“Everything is nectar or seed plants and popular with butterflies. We concentrated on attracting butterflies and bees,” Bush said. “In the spring there are over 500 bulbs (blooming).”
Along with replanting the garden, paths and retaining walls were rebuilt.
A flat stone path, covered with invasive plants, was unsafe. Two new paths were installed in 2012 after four inches of slag was excavated. A professional brick layer laid a third path in red brick. A hedge and fourth path with personalized bricks separates the Veterans Gardens from the Trial Gardens.
The Trial Gardens, established in 1952, are small plots planted and maintained by each of the nine local garden clubs. Its centerpiece is the original Windmill Pointe millstone.
Benches also have been incorporated into the Veterans Garden’s layout, each at the end of a path. One wooden bench was donated by Trial Gardens originator Mildred Allen in memory of her mother. A second wooden bench was donated in 2012 by the Grosse Pointe Garden Club in memory of Lynn Lutomski-Kiley. The third bench is a gray granite bench donated by the family of Cpl. U.S. Army Harry Joseph Lutomski by his family.
To support the Veterans Garden, residents can purchase a personalized brick engraved with former and present service men’s and women’s names and placed in the path.
“The path is commemorative and donors can select the brick to be engraved,” Allen said. “There are 50 names. We have lots of room to expand. Our fundraisers maintain this garden.”
“The beauty of the area, the beautiful garden, the flag, the water, people can reflect on what our veterans have done for us,” Marieka Allen said.
It’s an individual reason why people visit the gardens. It’s a reason based in emotion why volunteers spend hours on their knees pulling weeds and dead heading flowers or bending over plants with clippers in hand.
“Everyone has a personal reason for working in that garden,” Allen said.
For Allen, it’s her way of thanking World War II veterans.
“I grew up in Holland during World War II,” she began. “When the Nazis came, things got worse and worse.”
She remembered how the Americans arrived in September 1994 crossing Holland’s rivers. However, the Nazis fought them back across the river.
“The Germans overcame them. Winter was coming and at that point we hoped we would be liberated in two weeks. The Germans clamped down on our distribution system. We almost starved.
“The the only way to survive was to barter with the farmers. I had to go with my father to barter for food. It was dangerous. My older brother was in hiding because the Germans wanted him for slave labor. My younger brothers were too young (to travel out of the city).
“At 11 a.m. be sure we heard the droning of the (English) bombers. They crossed the North Sea and bombed the Germans. We roasted tulip bulbs. We wouldn’t have lasted another month.
“I owe my life to those who fought, that’s why I’m involved.
“We have enormous freedoms. Every single person (volunteer gardener) has a story, a deep emotional connection.”