Green-thumbed Detroiters share their private gardens

ardening season is in full bloom, with pretty plants popping up all over the city. We visited the homes of three green-thumbed Detroiters to shine some sunlight on their off-the-beaten-path oases.

Melvin and Evelyn Johnson

East English Village, Detroit

The Johnsons are both retired and proud empty nesters. They’ve lived in the East English Village neighborhood for almost 40 years, with Melvin gardening for about 25 of those. Every year he tries to do something different, but in 2017 property is filled with roses, hydrangeas, begonias and petunias.

BLAC: What is your favorite part about your garden?
MELVIN: My favorite part right now is the miniature petunias in the light post. I started doing that last year. It had been empty for years, then one day I was looking at it and I said, “I can do something with that.” I noticed at the bottom there are holes for drainage. I just threw some dirt and some flowers in there. I didn’t expect it to do that well because it’s only a small area, but it’s growing like crazy.


BLAC: What are some of the biggest challenges?
MELVIN: It’s like raising kids. You’ve got to watch them. You’ll think it’s fine but then you’ll look closely and it’s got a disease or a fungus. I didn’t think it would be this hard. It’s hard work. It’s easy to plant them, but to keep them alive and healthy, that’s all the work. But I look forward to it.

Gary and Sherri Brown

Sherwood Forest, Detroit

Gardening has been an important pastime for Gary his entire life – something he picked up from his mother. The Browns have lived in their home for 29 years, and their garden and landscaping have evolved throughout that time. The various flowers and plants in Gary’s garden are always grouped in odd numbers, something he says makes things more visually interesting.

BLAC: How would you describe your garden?
GARY: Our house is an English Tudor. I try not to go with a lot of colorful things that you might see in a ranch suburban community. I try to go with things that would go with an English Tudor, and sometimes that mutes the color a little bit.

BLAC: What is your favorite part about gardening?
GARY: It’s the only thing I could do today that I could look back after a couple of hours and see that I’ve accomplished something. Normally when I’m at work, it takes sometimes years to get projects finished. You can spend four or five hours out here cutting the grass and taking care of the garden, then you can look at something that’s been accomplished and feel good about it.

Theodore James Washington III

NW Goldberg, Detroit

Theodore’s inspiration was simple: He was tired of cutting the grass. So he set out to find a low-maintenance solution to beautify the small area in front of his house, which sparked the idea for the nonprofit Original Creativity, of which he’s executive director. He has plans to expand its efforts to beautify his neighborhood by building an art park and community gardens, as well as helping neighbors construct gardens of their own.

BLAC: How did you select the plants for your garden?
THEODORE: A lot of these plants, they’re not only competing with light, they’re competing with the major root system (from the tree), so they won’t get much larger than this – which I like. There are a few in here that I did put in for some height, such as the coreopsis (a daisy-like flower) that will get a little bigger. The coneflowers, those will get a decent height but it won’t overtake the space. I wanted some ground cover. Some of it is thyme. There’s a variety sedum lining the bricks that I got from a property where it was growing in the cracks.

strong>BLAC: How do you plan to expand this throughout your neighborhood?
TEODORE: Getting the neighborhood kids involved is huge, because it really gives you a sense of what the need is. It’s very important that you engage with the youth in the area, especially in the Detroit area. We’ve been through quite a bit. So it’s important to involve the community in any aspect when it’s doing good for your community.


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