In the midst of urban architecture in the Jefferson–Chalmers neighborhood is an array of beautiful flowers. Six gardens and counting filled with dazzling dahlias, fragrant lavender, and gorgeous shades of tulips, amaranth, and marigolds.
The burst of nature in this city environment is the work of Detroit Abloom, which stemmed from the nonprofit The Garden Detroit. The mission of Abloom is to help revitalize neighborhoods through transforming vacant lots into gorgeous gardens the neighborhood can revel in.
“Whenever we are working in the garden, at least 20 people a day honk and tell us it’s amazing — or they get out of the car and take pictures,” said Julia Griffin, a Detroit resident who was hired in 2016.
Abloom makes it a priority to try and employ neighborhood residents and seek local volunteers for seasonal, part-time or even full-time jobs.
“We get a lot of volunteers, many who come back a few times a week,” Griffin continued. “We get multiple requests a day from master gardeners on Instagram and even people from out of town. It’s pretty amazing.”
The original plan was to grow vegetables, but through conversations with neighbors, it was determined that flowers were a more suitable idea. In fact, Griffin’s original intent was to learn to grow vegetables from founders Tom Milano and Nancy Weigandt after getting her nutrition degree from Wayne State. That was until Nancy impassioned her with the love of flowers.
“Once we hooked onto the idea, we decided — we have to do this,” Weigandt said.
But even with Weigandt’s love for flowers, a passion of hers for 33 years, the project didn’t happen overnight. The nine contiguous vacant lots were in no shape for growing anything when they acquired them in April 2015.
“We spent all of 2015 cleaning them up — weeds, trees, grapevines — it was even used as a dumping ground for awhile,” she said. “We finally got it where we could at least mow the lawn.”
One year later, the team acquired a grant from the Kresge Foundation to grow something non-edible, and the planting was ready to begin. The beautification of the surrounding neighborhood may have been the first mission, but larger portions of the city have also benefited from the by-products.
From these gardens blossomed a successful cut flower business with customers all over Detroit. They sell flower bouquets and provide flowers for weddings and special events. They also set up a bouquet CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) giving residents the opportunity to subscribe to getting fresh flowers each month, and in turn, helping the farm with cash flow upfront to continue to grow the gardens.
Griffin believes they are able to inspire people in the community.
“We impact one person at a time — taking land and creating a beautiful garden has an impact on anyone,” she said.
Abloom has continued to expand, and they were recently able to install a hoop house that sits on a lot in Jefferson–Chalmers next to the house of Weigandt and Milano.
“The hoop house has changed our game totally,” said Weigandt referring to Abloom’s new greenhouse.
In it they are able to get earlier blooms and experiment with growing new flowers. Within the hoop house they’ve also installed a root cellar to help proliferate the amount of dahlias they can grow and to offer over-winter dahlias for those in the community.
Education has become a big part of what Abloom offers as well. The team teaches seminars in the hoop house and also in surrounding neighborhoods where gardening is a hobby for residents.
Looking toward the future, the team wants to continue to grow the business organically, adding new lots when they are available and forming new partnerships along the way.
They recently partnered with Urbane Apartments to provide beautifully curated gardens for their buildings, giving them additional plots of land they can harvest. Abloom has also partnered with Bees In The D, adding hives to their properties to help save the fledgling bee population.
But no matter their growth, their greater mission remains clear.
“We have a vision to bring about peace on this planet,” said Milano. “Detroit is poised to inspire the world. So many people are looking at the city. It’s us coming together as family, as equals, coming together in a vision.”