The Garden Detroit

I’ve been so crazy busy the last couple of months. There’s lots I’ve been meaning to blog about, but just can’t carve out the time. Although I’m finally sitting down (figuratively, since I always type standing up in the kitchen) to write about the Garden.

I’d been looking for a non-profit group to work with, specifically something garden or literacy-related, but everything I came across had too many hurdles to jump (must take x amount of classes, must be available at such and such a time) or was too far away or a little sketchy of a neighborhood.

So it was very serendipitous the day I met Tom, one of the Garden founders, at Trader Joe’s. I happened to be chatting with one of the staff there about growing vegetables this year (he asked me what my summer plans were). Tom heard the word “garden” and started talking to me about The Garden Detroit, an urban farm in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, literally blocks from Grosse Pointe. I was intrigued.

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I visited Tom and his partner Nancy (co-owner of the Garden) the very next day and knew pretty quickly that I wanted to be a part of it. I started helping out several days a week, which was easy to do while the girls were in school. Now that it’s summertime, it’s harder to get away. I have a sitter a couple times a week, so I usually use that time to escape to the Garden. Which is proof how much I love it. I am paying someone so I can volunteer at the Garden. Oy.

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Of course Garden gives back to me. Some days it’s more physical than others, but it’s always a stress reliever. And I’ve met a handful of interesting, diverse people, which is so refreshing after two years of living in suburbia. Plus there is all that fresh produce I get to take home  for my labor, and sometimes flowers (the Garden also run a cut-flower farm in the neighborhood). And I’m learning so much about agriculture, organic gardening, Detroit (community, politics) and about working for a non-profit.

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I started an Instagram account for the Garden. User name @thegardendetroit . So many beautiful colors and interesting shapes to photograph. I am helping them also with their website, which should be up and running very soon! I will send the URL when it’s ready.

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When I’m out there, I often think of my Grandpa Longboy (coincidentally, longboy in Ilocano, a Filipino dialect, is a type of plum tree) when I’m planting vegetables or weeding or watering. He worked in the pineapple fields in Hawaii as a means to bring his family to a land of more opportunity and a better life.

These photos aren’t the best quality, but the only ones my Hawaii family could find on short notice. They were taken closer to the end of his life, as is apparent, but also shows that he was in his garden as much as possible, even as he aged.

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By the time I came around, he was known in the neighborhood and among family and friends for his green thumb. Before we built a house on it, he had a plot of land that he used as a vegetable garden and I remember him spending most of his free time there.

He was sun-drying tomatoes before it was hip, coercing people to taste his super hot chili peppers (then laughing at their reaction), making ginger and rice tea whenever I got sick, putting aloe on my burns and bites and constantly touting the health benefits of coconut water. None of this really sunk in, but it’s coming back to me in pieces.

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Last week I was voted in as a member of the board. I’m excited to be a part of this organization and excited to be a part of the revitalization of Detroit.

 

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The June List – 2016

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So wow. June is over. How in the world.

1)  Summer is upon us. The photo above says it all. Lord have mercy.

2)  Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE summer and in Michigan we actually HAVE a summer which is so awesome because, as I remind people often, San Francisco summers are fuh-reez-ing. I can do hot all day long.

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3)  Here’s a little corner in Grosse Pointe over the course of two months. In June, everything is in full bloom. Not as exciting as the first signs of spring, but in summer, you can sit back and settle in for a bit.

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4)  To celebrate summer’s arrival, I made strawberry shortcakes for dinner. This was something Grandma Lucy in upstate New York used to do once in a while on hot summer days (except with a side of corn on the cob, not green beans).  I only had wheat flour, which isn’t nearly as good (and even with white flour, never as good as Grandma’s), but it was still yummy. Will do it again soon.

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5)  I’ve been spending a lot of my free time (HA-ha, what even is that!?) at the Garden Detroit urban farm (which I started writing about and mean to post before this one, but alas) that my own yard/garden has been somewhat neglected. I did get around to taking care of some of our pest issues with this nifty chemical alternative – live nematodes.

Except that I made my husband spray them all over the yard because of the creepy factor. Seven million invisible alive organisms that bury into the soil and hunt down bad bugs? Yes but no.

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6)  Speaking of the urban farm, our CSA share/weekly box of produce started this month. We got the strawberries from another farm, but the rest came from our harvest. Lettuce and kale for days.

I hadn’t ever used garlic scapes before (the curly things). They are the flower bud of the garlic plant and taste just like garlic and slightly more mild, but only just. I found a fantastic pesto recipe online that pairs scapes and pistachios with the other usual ingredients – so good!

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7)  I’m still taking photos for the farm’s Instagram account, and if you haven’t followed me there already, you can find me at screen name @thegardendetroit or click here for the link.

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8)  The yearly influx of fish flies came upon us starting a couple weeks ago. I think they are nearly gone, but ick. Super nasty and stinky. The girls love playing with them, though, which includes putting them on different parts of their bodies. And mine. Sigh.

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9)  For Father’s Day we decided on a picnic at the park. A friend of mine told me you can “reserve” a spot early in the morning (and no one will take or move your stuff!) so I decided to try it. At 7:15 am, there were already several tables set up, but I was still able to grab a nice spot. Small town win.

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10)  Summer nights are the best and my husband and I were able to escape one evening (thank you, Leslie!) for a date at the Yacht Club. After dinner we sat outside at the gazebo, had drinks and watched the sky change as the sun went down. A perfect night.

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11)  I’ve totally slacked off in the exercise department. Yoga classes have stopped for the summer and it’s been too hot to run (unless I want to get up at 5 in the morning, which I do not). As of a week ago, I am back at it, riding the exercise bike and doing minimal stretching. I don’t want to let all my hard work over the last few months go to waste (or to my waist, hehe). Up and at ’em.

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12)  There’s a health food shop in Grosse Pointe called the Sprout House. It’s been over a year since I got food from there, so when Tom (Garden owner) offered to buy lunch from there one day if I picked it up on my way to the Garden, I obliged. Their avocado sandwich is packed with avocados and there are also sundried tomatoes, cilantro and vegan chili mayonnaise. I’d forgotten how good they are.

I love Michigan summers so much. It almost (almost) keeps my San Francisco longings at bay. I hope you are able to take full advantage of your summer days and nights. Happy July, everyone!

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Digging in the Dirt

IMG_1676 (1024x1024)So, you know I’ve been spending a ton of time in the garden lately. I forget what in the world I was doing in our azalea/rhododendron flower bed (probably weeding), when I moved one of our decorative stones and heard a “clunk.”

Underneath was another stone. I covered it back up. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that buried stone. The fact that it was there, under the dirt, probably meant there were others. And if there were others, that meant only one thing: new garden project.

IMG_1591 (768x1024)I couldn’t help myself and a few days later I investigated. There was another stone. And another and another. Over the next couple of days, I dug up about 30 stones.

I’m not the strongest person and it was definitely a workout. I woke up in the morning with muscle aches all over, but I kind of love that feeling (which I haven’t felt since I took kickboxing before my wedding).

IMG_1589 (768x1024)So now what? After unearthing all the stones, I let them sit for a day or two and thought about what I wanted to do with them. The most obvious solution was to make a border around our maple, as that’s where most of them were found, presumably a border had been there years ago.

IMG_1602 (768x1024)Ta-da! Figuring out which stones to put where was like a puzzle and took quite a long time. I think it adds just enough polish to that area without taking away from the plants. I love natural materials in gardens

(Side note: speaking of gardens, I never used to say “garden.” I’d say back yard or front yard or just… yard. Here, everyone says “garden.” At first I thought it was a throwback to the Motherland (people are quirky here, who knows), but now I think it’s because people actually garden in their outdoor spaces. I really only started to call it my garden once I started garden-ing so that makes sense.)

IMG_1605 (1024x1024)I also used some of the found stones to repair the outer wall around the maple. It was dilapidated, falling in places and missing stones in others.

Of course once I was almost finished creating the two-stone-high section of wall, my husband came out and asked if I was going to make it three levels, “to match the other part of the wall.” Oh my gosh. Instead of going back and redoing everything, I tapered the wall down from three levels, to two and then one (near the boxwood). Perfect (okay, not really perfect. But I can’t go back).

IMG_1604 (1024x1024)I also widened and repaired, I guess is the right word, our back stone walkway. I wish I had a “before” pic because this one is a huge difference. The only stones that were there before I started were the slate one. You can kind of see they are darker and flatter than the others.

There used to be narrow pathway of slate (the path was made up of one line of six stones and some were broken and/or missing). More puzzle pieces. I moved some of the slate pieces so that they would flow better with the new stones (although technically the stones I unearthed are probably much older than the slate. anyhoo).

IMG_1603 (1024x1024)Finally I added a few decorative garden stones (the frog and three circles) that the previous owners left behind. I used to think they were ugly and/or dumb, but I love them here.

I love that yard work is never over. I hate weeding and the bugs (the bugs! three worms per every stone unturned!) and I also hate when you are trimming the hawthorn tree and a large branch with multiple thorns (they are huge) falls on your head. But it also means that I’ll never run out of things to do or get bored.

Case in point: after I stood back and admired my creation, I glanced over to the garden wall just beyond the bath. It was crooked, falling and sections were missing stones. I couldn’t look away. Next up: operation garden wall.

 

How Does Your Garden Grow?

IMG_1295 (1024x1024)I knew our next door neighbor was an expert gardener, because everyone told me so. “Oh, you live on such and such, do you know the ____? She’s an expert gardener.” I met Mr. M in December when he and his daughter were stringing outdoor lights, but I didn’t meet Shirley until a couple months ago.

Naturally, she was tending to her garden. We said a few nice words and I didn’t see her again until a few weeks ago, when she called to me from across the fence. She was in the process of dividing some of her plants and would I like any. Umm…. yes, please.

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Shirley’s garden

She invited me to walk through her yard to see what she would be digging up and what I might want, so the girls and I popped over for a tour. She told me the names of the plants, what kind of flowers they had (if any), what environment they liked. I learned that she is mainly self-taught, having gathered a lot of her gardening knowledge online (I still think to a large degree that gardening is a talent, rather than a skill and she clearly has that special something).

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Digging up Solomon’s Seal.

After our walk-through, she instructed me to get potting soil and any soil mixture that said “compost”on it and a couple days later, she called me over again. She had already pulled up several hostas, which are perfect for a shady yard like ours, and sedum, which is great for ground cover. I loved the Solomon’s Seal (in the hosta family) for its height and simple lines, so she dug some of it up and I added it to the pile.

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Transplanted Solomon’s Seal in our garden. I spaced them a little too far apart, but next year they will have lots of room to grow and multiply.

Shirley’s garden gets a lot more sun than we do (thanks to our two huge maples, birch and other large trees), but I decided to try some sun-loving plants anyway. She dug up a bunch of daisies….

IMG_1285 (768x1024)cranesbill (aka wild geranium)…

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The cranesbill in our garden

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Example of a large, thriving cranesbill plant. Image via chaletnursery.com.

dianthus, a low-growing shrub with pinky-purplish flowers…

IMG_1314 (1024x989)and a bleeding heart, which produces tiny rows of pink heart-shaped blossoms in the spring.

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Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart (Pink)

Close-up of bleeding heart blossoms. Image via michiganbulbs.com

After an hour or so (she did all the hard work!), I had a wheelbarrow full of perennials. She also threw in a pair of gardening gloves when I mentioned that I had none.

IMG_1294 (1024x1024)She walked over with me to our backyard, so she could show me the proper way to transplant, and I also wanted her opinion on where to put everything. She made a comment that she’d never been in our backyard, which I was surprised to hear (she and her husband have lived in their home for 12 years and the people we bought the house from lived here for over twenty).IMG_1293 (1024x778)

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Sedum before and after photos. You can sedum them along the border (haha).

We started with the garbage bag full of sedum. I watched as she planted the first clump. Use a shovel (she let me borrow hers. It was waaay easier to work with than our large man-sized one and a few days later I bought my own) to break up any roots and dig a hole for the new plant.

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Close up of the sedum.

After placing the plant in the hole, add a handful of potting soil and a handful of compost mix and cover up the roots with dirt, being careful not to pack the dirt too much (Shirley reminded me that plants need three things: water, sun and air). I asked if I needed to replant all the plants that day. Yes, I did and the quicker the better.

Three hours later, I was done. Towards the end, I was being less and less careful, throwing leaves and flowers into the dirt with the roots. I just wanted to get them in the ground.

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Transplanted daisies, monarda and evening primrose (the yellow flowers), in front of a lily plant, which we already had and which I later moved to another spot.

I’ve always loved the idea of gardening, but I haven’t done much of it. I come from a family of ridiculously green thumbs (my grandpa always had the heartiest fruits and vegetables, my grandma the most beautiful roses and orchids and my mom is a natural as well), so I hope some of those genes will start showing up in me.

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More daisies next to our dogwood tree.

Initially I was hesitant and overwhelmed about where to begin. But where do I put everything? Shirley told me to think about what I wanted to see when I looked out onto the yard from the patio. What did I want it to look like? And go from there. Can the daisies go over here? Try it. If something dies, you pull it up and try something else. No big deal.

I’m glad she gave me the responsibility of decision-making because ultimately my sense of ownership and pride is that much stronger. About a week after the big planting day, our lawn guys came and trampled over a bunch of my new plants and blew dirt and debris onto many others. I cried. Hard.

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The rhododendron I was so worried about (I thought I may have over-pruned it) is slowly coming back.

When we first moved to Grosse Pointe and were living in our rental apartment, my girlfriend Ingrid told me to buy a plant to take care of. She said it would help ground me. Maybe I was so emotional because after a year of feeling so unsettled, I was finally starting to feel rooted to this place.

The beauty of gardening is that if something doesn’t go as planned, you can always start over. That’s also what I love so much about living with seasons – everything is constantly changing, renewing itself, reminding us that life is cyclical. You watch things thrive and die and come back to life seemingly right before your eyes and there’s something so profound about that.

Lately, I’ve been spending at least an hour a day (sometimes hours) weeding, trimming, watering, planting and envisioning our garden in the years to come. And it all started with a chat across the fence. How does your garden grow?

Getting to Know Our Plants

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As I mentioned in my May List, when we moved in, we didn’t really know what kinds of plants we had because all but one of the flowering trees and plants were done blooming. We had an exciting Spring, watching all our plants awaken  (among my favorites were our magnolia and lilac trees). But now we have to take care of them all and oh my gosh.

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Our flowering pear tree made it through winter (last summer, a huge chunk of it came down in a storm).

The post I wrote about our first big gardening day was written just before our wedding anniversary. Coincidentally, both of our moms got us plant-related gifts: my mom bought us a serviceberry tree to cover our utility lines and my husband’s mom got us a one-hour consultation with her friend and expert local gardener (and North Carolina native) Mil Hurley.

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Leafy hastas, day lilies and a bunch of dead holly bushes along the back fence.

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Our dogwood above the hot tub shouldn’t get much taller than this. It has delicate white flowers in early Spring.

IMG_0735 (1024x928)Mil came over one afternoon (and I’m so bummed I forgot to take a photo of her!) to assess our backyard and give us tips on pruning, upkeep and some ideas for new plants. She also gave names to the plants I was unfamiliar with.

We have a several varieties of hastas, which are hearty perennials. Bunnies love them, however, so many of ours have holes in them.

IMG_0748 IMG_0724 (768x1024) IMG_0732 (768x1024)This blossoming tree that gave us beautiful light pink flowers is a crabapple. The blooms later turned white.

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Dogwood, azalea, juniper bushes (flanking the dogwood) and Japanese maple (purple leaves)

IMG_1198 (766x1024)We have several small dogwood trees, one of which has been pruned, giving it a manicured look. I usually prefer the natural, wild look of plants, but I rather like the bushy quality of this particular tree.

IMG_0638 (839x1024) IMG_0514 (769x1024) IMG_0730 (768x1024) IMG_1104 (908x1024)We also have a handful of flowering bushes. A few of them looked pretty scraggly, but they all bloomed and the azalea bushes (or are they rhododendrons, I forget) in the backyard were spectacular (I pretty much lopped them to bits a week or so ago, per the pruning info I read online. I am holding my breath. At the very least, I did not kill them, but we may have to wait two years for more blooms. Curses!).

IMG_0738 (768x1024)We have loads of ferns, which seem to attract mosquitos (our whole backyard is mosquito heaven, really) and other bugs, but we like the rugged look of them. Ferns are apparently a very hearty plant that will come back (and spread) every year.

IMG_1199 (665x1024)This little vine with a bright purple flower is called a …..oops. Forgot to write it down. I’m surprised I can even read the notes I did take from that day.

FullSizeRender (1024x768)Mil suggested that we have an arborist come once every three to five years to make sure our trees are healthy and to trim them (the trees here are sooooo tall!). The cost would be a few thousand dollars or so, but definitely worth it.

She was suprised to see our birch tree, which she said is usually seen much further north. Most of the birch trees in this area came down with a disease, and you can’t always tell by looking at the tree that is is unwell. I love that tree and I would hate to see it come down.

maple maple2Our maple that sits in the middle of our yard is a behemoth. And there are a million shoots coming off of it. I’ve already cut off hundreds. I can’t keep up.

We have lots of ground cover plants, including pachysandra (shown around the maple), wintercreeper and some ivy. Had I known how many weeds we’d get without the ivy, I wouldn’t have pulled so much of it last Fall when we moved in. Ah well.

RoseSharonWe also have a rose of sharon, which was a surprise to me. It is a late summer bloom that can be one of several different shades. It will be fun to see what color our flowers will be. It normally needs more light than it’s getting, so hopefully we can keep it alive and happy where it is.

Having all of these great plants and a huge backyard is both overwhelming and exciting. I’m so glad we got expert advice. Mil suggested cutting plants a lot further back than I would have done on my own. I’m worry about chopping off too much and killing the plant (although I didn’t seem to have that worry when I went to town on my azaleas!), but as she says, they will always grow back.

We have our work cut out for us, but I’m grateful to have this responsibility. What kinds of plants do you have in your garden?

UPDATE: My friend Cindy texted me and told me that I got my azaleas and rhododendron’s mixed up. Oops. So…I think I butchered my rhododendron’s, then (although online sites do say you can cut them way back). She and my friend Mariana also told me the name of the purple flower on the vine: Clematis! Thanks, guys!

A Quick Planter Makeover

IMG_1216 (821x1024)IMG_1217 (768x1024)When we bought the house, we inherited a few things, including the hot tub. Flanking the tub are two planters that had a bunch of plastic vines and leaves in them. Why we didn’t get rid of them until now is baffling to me. They don’t look all that bad in the photos, but in person you could tell they were definitely fake.

IMG_1219 (769x1024)IMG_1221 (768x1024)We bought two potted Lobelias (the tag also says “techno heat violet. attracts hummingbirds”) from one of the local nurseries for about $19.00 each. They are supposed to be in full sun, but there is no place in our backyard that gets full sun (which my gardening neighbor tells me is about 6 hours of sun). So far they have done well and we’ve relied strictly on the elements (no watering or fertilizing, etc.) and they should last through winter (going dormant, then coming back the following summer).