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Award-Winning Groundskeeper Cultivates a Healing Oasis at Madison Hospital

December 19, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Madison Hospital's longtime groundskeeper, Robert Black.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Madison Hospital’s daily operations, a man with a green thumb quietly transforms spaces on the 25-acre campus into havens of tranquility.

His name is Robert Black. As Madison Hospital’s longtime groundskeeper, Black’s tireless dedication goes beyond the call of duty to bring solace to patients, visitors and staff.

Black’s efforts to beautify Madison Hospital also reflect his meticulous attention to detail and care for our community.

“Robert is one of the most passionate, intelligent people I know when it comes to landscaping, plants, grass, whatever grows green,” said Madison Hospital President Mary Lynne Wright. “We believe in accountability and ownership at Madison Hospital, and Robert takes both of those attributes seriously.”

Samuel Ullman Award

The same passion Black has for horticulture at Madison Hospital recently earned him a well-deserved honor from the Japan-American Society of Alabama (JASA) for his work on the Japanese Garden at Monte Sano Mountain.

The Samuel Ullman Award recognizes those who have made significant contributions toward advancing the relationship between America and Japan. Named after early 20th century Birmingham civic leader, Samuel Ullman, the award is JASA’s highest honor.

Black, who grew up on Monte Sano, started the Japanese Garden in 1988 as a hobby and way to spend more time with his children. The garden expanded in 1991 to include a Tea House, followed by the first annual Japanese Spring Festival the next year.

Supported by a hardworking team of volunteers, Black continues to keep the garden, which is adorned by Japanese red maples and azaleas native to the Huntsville area. Known for its peaceful ambience, the garden has become an ideal spot for photography and bird watching within Monte Sano State Park.

Robert Black speaks at the podium after receiving the Samuel Ullman Award
‘One man’s dream’

“Everything in the garden was one man’s dream, and he [Black] personally invested countless hours not only in design, but in manual labor to build and maintain everything,” said Brian Hilson, former CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.

Hilson presented the JASA award to Black in November.

Since receiving the award, Black continues his daily work at Madison Hospital. One of his many responsibilities is the Healing Garden, a beautiful respite just behind the building where patients, families and employees can enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.

He also helped facilitate the Monarch Waystation, a designated area at the Healing Garden for monarch butterflies. A 2021 project of the Girl Scouts of the USA, the area includes specific plants that provide nourishment and shelter for the butterflies as they migrate thousands of miles through North America.

Black, whose wife, Anna, works at the hospital, also maintains a vegetable garden, herb garden, interior plants and a space known as the Labyrinth, a unique stone pathway that serves as a walking meditation space for visitors.

Finding beauty

Asked to discuss his impact on Madison Hospital and those who frequent the campus, Black is quick to give others the credit, especially Wright for her vision.

“It is nice to do this,” he said. “Especially for the patients, their families and employees who just need a bit of rest and relaxation.”

Black’s story is a celebration of the profound impact a single person can have on a community and a reminder that beauty can bloom even in the most unexpected places.