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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Ault Park Adopt-a-Plots Keep Cincinnati Vibrant

By Christian Meininger

Ault Park visitors may know well the park’s winding roads, trails and the throngs of joggers, bikers and walkers who traverse it. However, some may be less aware of the park’s unique garden history.
It's difficult to envision it now, but there was a time, not too long ago, when the park was in decline. The pavilion, now the grand centerpiece of dances, concerts and weddings was in ruins. One way to lift the park out of decay was to introduce a team of volunteers who would be responsible for the gardens within what is now known as the Adopt-a-Plot section. 

“The Adopt-a-Plot section of Ault Park is unique in that each garden, 36 in all plus the Focal Garden, is designed, planted and maintained by a volunteer. We're each entrusted with a garden space within the park,” shares Jennifer Smith who has been with the Adopt-a-Plots for nine years. As a result, the Adopt-a-Plots is a wonderful collection of garden styles from drought-tolerant raised rock gardens, lush shade gardens, an herb garden and a prairie garden -  to name a few. "This is not only a beautiful place, it's a place of design inspiration for gardeners," Jennifer shares.

"Ask any of our volunteers and they will say we do this because we love gardening and this park. Our volunteers have a wealth of garden inspiration that they're happy to share with anyone who strikes up a conversation," Jennifer confides. It's difficult to know for certain - most volunteers are modest and wish not to divulge the time and financial investment given to their gardens - but it is safe to say anywhere from 5 to 20 hours a month is given by each volunteer. 

Some gardens, such as well-established perennial gardens, require few new plants while others, such as newly acquired plots, may call for a sizable financial investment by the volunteer.

It's simply joyful to look at this cheerful garden - 'Diggin It" by Julie Martina and Helen Vogt 
A Dangerous Past
Ault Park has not always been at the height at which visitors see and enjoy it today. Ault Park Advisory Council (APAC) historian Rob Kranz explains that in the 1960s the park was run by a motorcycle gang called the Iron Horsemen. In fact, Cincinnati was influenced by the presence of 26 motorcycle gangs. The Iron Horsemen controlled the park, and even charged admission to the park’s pavilion. As a result, the park was a detriment to the surrounding neighborhoods, not the highlight it is today.

The Horsemen left Ault Park in 1971, but it was in shambles due to years of damage and neglect.  By 1982, the City and Cincinnati Parks announced plans to demolish the Pavilion, as they lacked the estimated $3 million required to repair the facility.  A group of neighborhood residents - led by Marlene Holwadel, Katie Katz, Celia Mae Brumm and Dottie Kranz - decided to demonstrate community support for the park by converting the overgrown, abandoned gardens to the north of the concert green into the Adopt-A-Plot gardens.  Local volunteer gardeners each took responsibility for a section of the gardens, and the resurrection of the park began.

One such volunteer was Cathy Moon, whose first two gardens were of tropicals and begonias. She continues to maintain a garden to this day, focusing on scented geraniums. 

With the success of the Adopt-A-Plot gardens achieved, the group began to focus on the restoration of the Pavilion in the mid-1980s.  The group went to the City and offered to raise half of the estimated $3 million cost to restore the Pavilion if the City would provide the balance of the funding.
Rob Kranz, Dottie’s son, was instrumental in the effort to revive the park starting in 1982. He was a Founding Trustee of the APAC, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization that raised $1.5 million to restore the park. Kranz said the private donors who helped fund the effort shared a “deep connection to the pavilion, where people had danced, found love, been engaged and married over the preceding decades.

'The English Cottage Garden' is cared for by the Hyde Park Garden Club. It's unique style reflects the personality of its caretakers, with it's white picket fence and birdhouse.
Garden Style
“More plants,” Smith replies when asked about her particular gardening style. “I prefer to not see any mulch.” This garden philosophy is reflected in the Wimberg Landscaping Focal Garden, which current design is of her making. For close to 20 years Wimberg Landscaping has been gardening in public spaces: most specifically, the Adopt-a-Plot Focal Garden. A local resident, Peter Wimberg finds himself at Ault Park almost daily and saw a need in the Focal Garden. 

The Wimberg Landscaping Focal Garden is a registered Pollinator garden with Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's Plant for Pollinator program. The garden attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and much more in droves.
“I believe at that time the park was tending to the Focal Garden, but because it was in the Adopt-a-Plot section, an area designed and maintained by volunteers, they were looking for this garden to be a volunteer space, too,” Peter recalls. "My original planting was greatly inspired by the The Cloister landscaping team (a five-star resort on the Georgia coast) who changed their garden beds every six weeks with fresh annuals. Their amazing displays of color - orange, blue and yellow - was the design inspiration the first few years for the Focal Garden.”

'The Bee's Knees' has a collection of plants selected with pollinators in mind: Alliums, Nepeta, Verbenia and much more.
For Cathy Moon, the allure and rewards of gardening in the Adopt-a-Plots has yet to fade. “After my 45 years with the Cincinnati Parks, one of the most rewarding things is interacting with the public,” she shares. “Whether at Krohn, Ault or another park, visitors come up to ask questions, tell you stories and thank you for your efforts. It’s a wonderful way to learn something new and meet interesting people.”

When speaking about what he enjoys most about Ault Park’s gardens in particular, Rob Kranz said he appreciates “the renewal of nature.” Kranz said he admires, and is fascinated by, “the wonder of how it all works.”

Here we see Deborah Wyght tending 'Passalongs & Volunteers,' a plot she shares with her husband Geoff.
Kranz remains a Trustee of APAC and is involved in its fundraising efforts, which are necessary to the park’s continued success. The park holds frequent ticketed tasting fundraisers as well as a variety of events that are free and open to the public. Kranz says APAC’s leadership team wants to “keep the community engaged in the park,” through picnics, soccer games, church services and more.
Kranz said the hundreds of individuals and family donors do not receive any tangible benefit when they donate to Ault Park each year. However, he believes they continue to do so year after year for the “satisfaction of knowing they supported the park.”

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