To say that the Van Wert County Master Gardener Volunteers (MGVs) have high expectations is an understatement. Since the group’s formation in 2002, they have worked relentlessly on three major projects which have put the small, northwest Ohio town of Van Wert on the map.
The first group of MGVs, which was eight members strong, selected a portion of a parking lot between two businesses in downtown Van Wert to create The Garden of the Senses. The garden, which sits right on Main Street in the center of town was carefully designed to be not only beautiful and welcoming but interactive as well. The plants chosen for this site are intended to delight the senses. You see the beauty of the plants, but they are also meant to be touched, heard, smelled and even tasted. The Garden of the Senses features a beautiful Paperbark Maple, Ginkgo, pergola, painted mural and benches for resting. The Van Wert MGVs are happy to add that this garden has survived a change of ownership and will be the entrance to a patio for a new business in 2018.
The second major project for the MGVs was an enormous undertaking that began in the spring of 2008. Situated in the southeast corner of Smiley Park is the Children’s Garden. The site for the garden was an excellent choice due to its availability of space, visibility from the road and also because of the number of visitors this park already received throughout the year. The one-acre space is filled to the brim with individual gardens each with a theme to ignite the imagination of both young and old.
At the center of the garden is a large pavilion that serves as a meeting place and respite from the summer sun. Encompassing the pavilion is the Alphabet Garden. Plants for each letter of the alphabet grow here. Located south of the pavilion is the Healthy Me Garden where vegetables are grown and then donated to local food banks. There is the Enable the Spirit Garden which is accessible to all with its raised beds, living walls and sturdy, block floor. The Children’s Garden has many other features too including a Human Sundial, a Dinosaur Fossil Garden, Crooked Playhouse, Maze and Rainbow Garden.
By far the most popular place to visit at the Children’s Garden is the Butterfly Garden. A path leads you through a butterfly-shaped bed (packed full of the best butterfly attracting plants) right up to a child sized door at the entrance of the screened Butterfly House. Inside the Butterfly House, plants which support all phases of the lifecycle are carefully maintained. MGVs collect caterpillars of different varieties from their own gardens and place them in the protective house where they can be viewed but not disturbed by children during one of the many events held at the garden each summer.
During the warmer months MGVs host events for children ages 3-10 at the garden. Programs are selected and planned each year in the early spring. In 2017 we held four different events all of which are free of charge to area kids. “Sow and Grow” had children planting vegetables and learning how plants grow, “Wonderful World of Insects” brought exotic insects from around the world and “Fruit of Your Labor” allowed kids to harvest and make a pizza with ingredients grown right in the garden. Our most popular event of 2017 was our “Butterfly Release Party”. Seventy-five young people and their families showed up and each one was given a tiny box containing a Painted Lady Butterfly for a joint release. The garden also hosts school groups and garden tours and has a fantastic light display at Christmas.
The award winning Children’s Garden was designed by MGVs and was paid for through grants, generous community members and area businesses. It has been featured on the WBGU-PBS show ‘Scenic Stops’ and is proudly 100% maintained by MGVs and community volunteers using funds raised by this small but dedicated troop. The MGVs can be seen working on Thursday mornings in the garden. Stop in and see us!
The third endeavor of the Van Wert MGVs was 2016’s Van Wert Blooms. This one-day garden symposium, which boasted more than 600 attendees, featured the keynote speaker, P. Allen Smith as well as five other great garden speakers and a gardener’s market. The MGVs took advantage of Van Wert’s state of the art Niswonger Performing Arts Center as the venue. The Niswonger is attached to Van Wert High School which allowed for the use of their cafeteria where breakfast and lunch were served.
Planning for this event began more than a year in advance. Committees were formed and sponsors were wrangled. Much was learned about contracts, transportation, donations and organization. Worrying and sleepless nights occurred! The event sold out quickly and then was expanded for more seating! People from four states attended!
And in the end it was a great a day; the group’s hard work shone through, the event was fun and informative and the goodie bags and door prizes were the best that were ever given. The proceeds from Van Wert Blooms allow for the maintenance of the two gardens and for free programming for youth throughout the year.
The Van Wert County MGVs hope that you’ll pass through our little town, maybe on your way somewhere else or choose us as destination for a day trip. Please contact Van Wert County MGV Program Coordinator Rachel Hoverman (419.238.1214 or firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’d like to visit the gardens and have a guided tour or just to let us know if you’re passing through! You can also visit our Facebook pages: The Children’s Garden of Van Wert-helpers and Van Wert County Master Gardener Volunteers. We are so proud of our gardens and the work it took to get them. We’ll see where future endeavors take the group, but for now the sky’s the limit.