Tidewater Community College horticulture students taking Assistant Professor Kristina Bezanson’s Planting Design this semester are providing hope and healing to those who serve our country in a big way.

As a class project, students created landscape designs for the memorial garden for the soon-to-be opened LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat in Virginia Beach.

Founded by Lynnette Bukowski, the widow of a 32-year veteran Navy SEAL, in honor of her husband’s wishes and memory, LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat will be a place of healing and restoration for service members returning from hot spots around the world.

“My husband’s vision, which I fully share, was for a retreat that would provide respite and healing to his brothers from all branches of the special operation forces community,” Bukowski said.

TCC students began the project with a site visit of the property in September.

While there, Bukowski shared her vision of a place for individuals and families to come to decompress and reconnect.

“I was stunned by the skill, imagination and the heart of the students for this project,” she said. “They listened to my dream and took my input as a jumping off place to begin their projects.”

After weeks of planning, researching and drawing, students presented their designs to Bukowski and her daughter, Sheri. “The work simply went beyond my wildest dreams,” Bukowski said. “Every design was phenomenal, and many of the pieces fit my vision beautifully.”

She originally considered selecting one student’s design among the group to install on the property. After viewing all of the options, she selected several designs, picking and choosing pieces from each to create the property’s centerpiece garden.

Other designs will be used in different locations throughout the property.

“One of my favorite designs was done by Laura Bayer. Because of who she is and where she came from, I was drawn to her work,” Bukowski said.

Bayer is a retired Navy chief who specialized in information technology. Her design included stamped concrete with a compass rose in the garden’s center.

In this spot, she added a ship’s bell with Bukowski’s husband’s name engraved there prominently. She also incorporated large rocks with the symbols of each branch of service and meandering walkways.

“It was a privilege to be part of this project that will ultimately be a place of physical and psychological healing for many,” Bayer said. “For me, this was personal.”

Bukowski also selected the design completed by Cyndy Comeau Risku. “Cyndy’s design featured walkways with sharp turns, and for me this was prophetic,” she said. “In this life, you have to make the decision to change directions, especially when dealing with physical and emotional wounds.”

Kevin Elmore's flowing design is a top pick.
Kevin Elmore’s flowing design is a top pick

By contrast, she selected Kevin Elmore’s design because of its circular and flowing properties. It features flowing fountains, leaping and dancing water, and a metal tree where guests can hang dog tags.

“When returning from a place of service, you have to learn how to flow from one thing to the next, and this design reflects that,” she said.

“Being part of a project for service members who are not usually recognized – that’s what been the most important thing for me,” said Elmore, a retired senior Navy chief.

All of the completed designs were displayed during a groundbreaking Nov. 16, for the retreat that will house returning service members and their families during their stay at L-Z Grace Warriors Retreat.

“I’m grateful for the students’ work and for the leadership provided by Kristina Bezanson. I can’t wait to see the transformation take place, as each design is installed on the property. It’s sure to be stunning,” Bukowski said.