From Blight to Bright
A couple of passionate flower growers turn vacant land into a productive business
Staff member Julia Griffin strolls the property of Detroit Abloom, a project sponsored by The Garden Detroit with support from The Kresge Foundation and the Detroit Land Authority.
Photos by Cybelle Codish
BACKSTORY: Detroit Abloom is a project sponsored by The Garden Detroit, a nonprofit organization whose core mission is to repurpose vacant, blighted land. “We thought cut-flower farming would be an innovative way to turn vacant land into beautiful and productive landscapes,” says Nancy Weigandt, who oversees the flower operation. “Fortunately we qualified to receive a $74,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, which helped us establish our business.”
Clockwise from top left: The Lavender Perfection dahlia stops visitors in their tracks with its stunning colors. The magenta-hued Thomas Edison dahlia wows. The Lavender Perfection dahlia from a different perspective. Nancy Weigandt, who oversees the flower operation, and Griffin cut and prune various plants.
IN THE BEGINNING: In the spring of 2015, Tom Milano, director of Detroit Abloom, and his partner, Weigandt, obtained nine vacant lots from the Detroit Land Authority. After clearing the lots and maintaining them for a year, Detroit Abloom got its start with the planting of 350 lavender plants and the construction of 1,000 feet of raised wooden and mounded flower beds, which were planted with 100 different kinds of plants. “Growing gorgeous flowers to both harvest and beautify these lots, while simultaneously creating several meaningful jobs, was our idea of how we could contribute to the revitalization of our neighborhood,” Weigandt says.
HOOP-LA: Through the city’s Detroit’s Side Lot Program, Milano and Weigandt were able to purchase a vacant lot next to their house on Newport Street for just $115. “The timing was perfect because the Kresge grant also included funds for a hoop house,” Milano says. Adds Weigandt: “The hoop house’s two-layered plastic cover enables us to extend our growing season and raise plants that we can’t grow outside. We have to do a lot of indoor growing because we’re in Michigan.”
growing gains clockwise from upper left: Rows of plants at Detroit Abloom. The company’s hoop house and the founders’ home next door. Julia Griffin and Nancy Weigandt.
FREE ROOM AND BOARD: Detroit Abloom’s root cellar, completed last November, is specially designed to over-winter dahlia tubers that have to be dug up after the first frost. “We’re particularly fond of dahlias,” Milano says, “and because we want more and more people to grow them, we make it a little easier by providing a free boarding service for their tubers in our root cellar.”
A LITTLE HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS: The couple says they love volunteers and strive to make volunteering a joyful learning experience. “We have volunteers from some of Detroit’s most prestigious companies, like Ford, Chrysler, and Quicken Loans,” Milano says. “We wouldn’t have been able to build and maintain this project without their help.”
WHERE TO GET THE FLOWERS: During the summer months, Detroit Abloom sells buckets of loose flowers as well as bouquets from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. every Saturday at the Park Market on Wayburn and Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Park, and at The Farmer’s Hand (open daily) in Corktown at 1701 Trumbull Ave., Detroit. They also specialize in providing organically grown flowers for weddings and other special events. A weekly bouquet subscription is also available. detroitabloom.com