Community gardeners lay groundwork for improvements this season

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 6, 2016

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GROSSE POINTE PARK — The weather might not be conducive to planting just yet, but the volunteers behind the Backyard Community Garden project are looking forward to the start of the planting season.

Mary Martin, planner for the Backyard Community Garden — located in the area of Mack Avenue and Wayburn Street — announced the nonprofit’s plans for improvements on the parcel this spring during a March 14 City Council meeting. 

“We appreciate greatly the help that we’ve had,” Martin said. “It’s been absolutely incredible, the support we’ve received.”

She said they have about 20 families involved with the garden now, and organizers hope to have about 25 by the time the season starts. The members help by tending the garden and handling other tasks with regard to maintaining the plants and the property. In turn, members are able to take home fresh produce grown in the garden. Martin said it takes about six hours to water all of the planting beds. People of all ages help, from toddlers to seniors.

Martin said they tried to “make it look nicer” last year, and they’ve already planted perennial flowers around the borders of the garden to beautify the area. This year, they hope to add raised planting beds to create paths between the crops and keep the plants from getting overgrown, she said.

In addition, Martin said improvement plans this year include the installation of underground containment fences for plants such as raspberries, strawberries and asparagus. The project, which also includes new soil, black edging for raspberries and mint, as well as weed control for the pathways, costs more than $14,000, and organizers are seeking donations and grants to cover these costs.

Jack Howes, one of the Backyard Community Garden volunteers, said they started the process to obtain official nonprofit status late last year and learned they’d been declared a 501(c)(3) organization earlier this year.

“What you’ve done and put together is truly remarkable,” City Councilwoman Laurie Arora said, praising the gardeners for doing a lot to “shore up that corner” in the city.

City Councilwoman Barbara Detwiler echoed that sentiment.

“Obviously, it makes the area look nicer,” she said of proposed improvements to the Backyard Community Garden. “It’s a nice amenity for the community.”

Because city officials have discussed locating a dog park in the area of Mack and Wayburn, where the gardens are now, City Councilman James Robson suggested that the gardeners talk about this possibility with the dog park supporters.

Martin said the gardeners understand that the city could come up with a project for that corner.

“We want to coordinate” with the dog park supporters, Howes said.

Mayor Robert Denner said the Backyard Community Garden has “been a great asset” and the volunteers have “done a terrific job,” but the garden could be in conflict with a dog park if the park comes up in the future.

It wasn’t known at press time when the dog park issue might be in front of the council again.

Martin said the Backyard Community Garden leases three lots, two of which are owned by the city and one of which is owned privately.

Longtime Wayburn resident Amie Reno objected to the management of the gardens, saying that it created a rat problem last year and that parties thrown by gardeners resulted in an “astronomical” amount of debris. 

Martin said potlucks and barbecues at the garden are rare, not every weekend, and she said the gardeners only work during specific hours. Volunteer Carolin Dwaihy said the volunteers clean up after themselves. Martin denied that the gardeners have been causing problems for the neighborhood.

City Manager Dale Krajniak said that if there are problems with gatherings on the property, the Public Safety Department could follow up on those.

The Backyard Community Garden was launched around 2010 and was modeled on other community gardens in the area.

For information on how to donate or get involved in this project, visit the Backyard Community Garden Facebook page or send email to