A fountain in the front yard is one of three in Sharon and Joseph Ensley’s gardens.

A fountain in the front yard is one of three in Sharon and Joseph Ensley’s gardens.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Garden walk to explore ‘oasis’ neighborhood

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | Southfield Sun | Published June 17, 2024

 Jeannie Salkowski joked that it’s hard to keep her inside the house; she’d rather be outside among the nature that surrounds her 4-acre property.

Jeannie Salkowski joked that it’s hard to keep her inside the house; she’d rather be outside among the nature that surrounds her 4-acre property.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 The front garden of Mark Sarver and Nasir Khawaja boasts pops of red.

The front garden of Mark Sarver and Nasir Khawaja boasts pops of red.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


SOUTHFIELD — Nestled between Evergreen and Lahser roads, just south of 10 Mile Road, the Tamarack/Hiawatha neighborhood is what Nasir Khawaja calls an oasis.

“We’re in Southfield and yet not. It doesn’t feel as if you’re in a city. Another blessing of this neighborhood: it is kind of a respite. It’s an oasis.”

Ten yards located in the Tamarack/Hiawatha neighborhood will be featured in Southfield’s 17th annual garden walk, presented by the Southfield Parks and Garden Club, 2-5 p.m. June 23.

Khawaja said that his husband, Mark Sarver, is the mastermind behind their garden, which boasts pops of red plants and lawn decor.

“I love red. So, I like to use just a pop of color in the flower beds, or anywhere, actually, in the house also. Just as a pop of color, to eye-catch, and to make you look at a particular area or something. I just think red’s a great color to work with because just a little bit goes a long way. And I love Christmas, so, red and green.”

Sarver’s love of red is reflected in the blood grass, which is currently red at the tips but will intensify in color by the end of the season.

The couple has lived in their home, which they lovingly refer to as “Hannah Lahti,” since 2003. Hannah Lahti was the original owner of the mid-century home. Although she passed shortly after Khawaja and Sarver became the second owners of the home, remnants of her influence can be found sprinkled throughout the home and garden. With their love for unexpected pops of red, it was only fitting that they found a red wine stain when they first moved in. Khawaja joked that the original owners must have been “party-goers and party-throwers,” and the tradition of welcoming guests into the home is one that he and his husband have held. He added that guests often say, “A lot of times when people come in, they comment two things. I’ve heard them say, one, is that the place looks familiar, or they’ll say that, ‘It feels like as if I’ve been here before.’”

Khawaja reflected on meeting Lahti once just a few days before she passed.

“She was a music lover. Her taste in plants was very eclectic. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to salvage anything, because we couldn’t tell what was weed. Everything was overgrown. She had been ill for a very long time, so we couldn’t tell what was weed from the true flora.”

The peonies in the backyard were the one thing they salvaged from Lahti’s garden, which, according to Khawaja, was composed of plants brought back from her visits to Europe. From the one peony bush they grew six more.

“These peonies are truly a gift from Hannah,” Khawaja commented. “Mark calls them the ‘old-fashioned peonies.’ I have fallen in love with them, because they’re just the most beautiful blush pink, and it kind of changes into white. It’s like a wedding dress. In some universe, every March, when these blooms are open, there’s a wedding that happens over here. The bride walks down the aisle in some parallel universe.”

Just down the street, Veronica, Sharon and Holly make their home in Sharon Ensley’s garden, and no, they aren’t people — they’re plants. Ensley’s garden is decorated with lawn ornaments ranging from Mickey and Minnie Mouse to Hawaiian tikis and a lighthouse that casts a light at night.

“My husband likes lights, so at night it’s pitch black, because we don’t have street lights. Our house always has little pops of light,” Ensley said.

Gardening has always come naturally to Ensley. She reflected on the magical feeling she experienced when she first started gardening.

“When I was probably about 13, my mother let me experiment with vegetables. And once I saw that I could put a seed in the ground and pick cucumbers three months later, I was hooked. I have been hooked since I was a kid. At my mother’s house, she had hostas all around the side of her house. You gotta make things look beautiful. That’s my thing. And I just love to see what happens when you plant something.”

Large hostas line Ensley’s yard, and she only plants ones that are either all green or two tones of green. You’ll never see a green and white hosta in her garden, simply because she doesn’t like the look of them. In her backyard, she honors her and her husband’s parents with a memorial garden with bulbs to light the area and a wise owl and smiling frog statues to honor their loved ones. Ensley is working on another memorial garden across the yard, which will be in honor of her late niece, Tanisha. Her garden will feature purple flowers, Tanisha’s favorite.

For Ensley, her garden is a labor of love. Even though maintenance can be another full-time job on top of her full-time job, she’s always thinking of ways to improve her garden.

“My husband keeps up the lawn, and I do the flowers, and we work together with his assistance with watering. And watering is key, because I can’t water the grass after working 10 hours at the post office, so he set it up to where my plants were getting watered, but then it was like, ‘Wait, they’re getting too much water,’” Ensley explained. “So I started thinking about drip irrigation. We talked about it last year, and then this year, it’s like, we pulled the trigger. I’m like, ‘We’re getting it.’ And I think I’m gonna do my niece’s garden like that too, and eventually that back garden, because it’s just easier. It’s not as much watering because you can have that run every day for 20 minutes, and you’re done, and it’s watering the roots, and that’s what’s key.”

The song of the chimes, birds and fountains greet you as you step into the serene landscape of Jeannie Salkowski’s garden, which rests on 4 acres.

She and her husband, Richard, have found a piece of paradise with all the nature that surrounds their property.

“When we moved in here 12 years ago, there wasn’t a plant, there were only big trees,” she said. “There was not a bush, not a shrub, not a flower. So, this has been a process. And as you can see, I love a natural sort of look.”

Salkowski described herself as an “evolutionary gardener.” She explained that this is because she’s not afraid to move things around and let the garden take the shape that it naturally tries to go in. If something isn’t doing well in a spot, Salkowski will relocate it. She doesn’t battle nature; rather, she reroutes it. For example, she added turkey vulture feathers to the gates to keep birds at bay from her gated vegetable garden.

In Salkowski’s garden, all pollinators are welcome. Her native plants are a playground for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. In her fennel, she likes to observe the butterflies laying their eggs. She explained that everything in her garden is pollinator friendly, from the fennel to the yellow clover, adding that her herb garden is one of the butterflies’ favorite spots.

“Richard said every time he sees me out here, it just makes him laugh, because there’s never a time there’s not a smile on my face. And I don’t even realize it, but I think it’s got to be true.”

Salkowski explained that being outside is rejuvenating for her. She said that her favorite thing to do in the garden is to “be alone out here and to just sit quietly and look and see what’s happening around. You see the insects; you listen to the sounds. I do a lot of deep thinking out here.”

Tickets for the garden walk cost $10 and may be purchased on the day of the event or in advance from the Mayor’s Office. There is no additional charge for parking or refreshments.

For more information on the walk, contact Southfield Mayor Ken Siver, garden walk co-chair, at (248) 796-5100 or ksiver@cityofsouthfield.com, or contact Rosemerry Allen, co-chair, at (248) 497-8267 or esor1227@gmail.com.