When military veterans gather at Cantigny it’s usually in or outside the newly renovated First Division Museum, a monument to those who served. But during the growing season you’ll now find some veterans behind the park’s massive greenhouse as well.
They come to learn, and they come to grow. It’s mostly about vegetables, but also camaraderie and mutual support.
Welcome to the Veterans Garden at Cantigny, located between the greenhouse and Roosevelt Road. Established in 2016, regular visitors would never know it’s there. The garden is a fenced-in series of circular raised beds, or “pods,” where local veterans from various eras—usually about a dozen—spend Saturday mornings getting their hands dirty and sharing stories about their service time or anything else that comes up. This is social gardening at its best.
Along the way, the vets produce some mighty fine tomatoes, peppers, squash, carrots, beans, beets and zucchini.
To be sure, it’s not beginners luck. The green-thumb wannabees are guided by Master Gardeners Fritz Porter of Glen Ellyn and Logan Wasson of Naperville. Every week from May through early September the two garden gurus share tips for successful vegetable growing around a big table inside the greenhouse. Then they all head out to the pods for hands-on learning and discovery.
For most of the vets, the experience is all new and, yes, an opportunity to grow personally. A few hours in nature with some new friends can go a long way. Especially friends who have much in common.
Most participants are from the Aurora Vet Center and the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton. All veterans are welcome, which you’d expect at Cantigny.
Indeed, a Veterans Garden at Cantigny seems perfectly placed. Former property owner Robert R. McCormick took great interest in crop growing on the Cantigny farm, and we know he enjoyed hosting reunions at Cantigny for his World War I comrades. If alive today, it’s easy to guess where the Colonel might spend a few Saturday mornings in the summer.