‘Learning garden’ takes root on Detroit’s east side

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Community and green-space activists hope a newly-planted garden will help fight blight and educate residents in Detroit’s east-side Osborn neighborhood.

Jayla Wilson, 13 paints a butterfly on a boarded up building across the street from where The Osborn Neighborhood Alliance and the Greening of Detroit are gathering volunteers to build a garden and clean up the area around Mapleridge and Schoenherr in Detroit, Michigan on May 5, 2016.

The Osborn Neighborhood Alliance and the Greening of Detroit teamed up to create the city’s first outdoor “learning garden,” which opened Saturday.

The 44-square-foot space will house a gathering area with park benches in the central part of the garden, rose bushes, white oak and tulip trees for a butterfly meadow, and a mini-playground for children.

Natalie Mootry, an English teacher at Brenda Scott Academy, brought her students Thursday to help plant her plant trees -- and learn some practical math and language skills.

“I wanted my students to have a hands-on learning experience here in the garden,” Mootry said as she shoveled dirt to make space for white oak trees. “Planting trees helps to teach them about measuring, depth, width and how to take the knowledge they just learned and be able to articulate it to someone else.”

Volunteers from Bank of America and American Forests, which funded the project, also helped to create the garden space.

Beginning in July, on-site natural resource education sessions will be open for students and other community members.

Jac Kyle, an environmental instructor for the Greening of Detroit, said it’s important to have trees and green space in an urban area.

“Most people wouldn’t expect to see a garden in the middle of the city, but it helps improve the quality of life and makes for a more peaceful environment,” Kyle said. “We want people to be able to have a green space right in the neighborhood that they feel welcome to use.”

The garden is the latest effort in an ongoing campaign to improve the Osborn neighborhood.

Teacher Natalie Mootry from Brenda Scott Academy, Ian Wright, 16, and Janada Johnson, 14 rolls a tree into place as The Osborn Neighborhood Alliance and the Greening of Detroit build a garden and clean up the area around Mapleridge and Schoenherr in Detroit, Michigan on May 5, 2016.

Kayanna Sessoms, program director for the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, has been working to eradicate blight in the area for the past five years.

“Initially, we asked investors to invest in our neighborhood, but developers felt that the area wasn’t sexy enough and they had no interest, so we decided to take matters into our own hands,” Sessoms said. “We went to the Detroit Land Bank Authority and purchased the land so we could start the process of rebuilding our community.”

In the coming months, the ONA plans to buy abandoned houses in the surrounding area, renovate them and rent them out to low-income families at a discounted rate.

“The Osborn neighborhood shouldn’t be overlooked,” said Dean Hay, director of the Greening of Detroit. “Adding green spaces to neighborhoods that otherwise have limited access can help with restoring the community. People value nature”

At the end of May, the Greening of Detroit will partner with the Alliance for the Great Lakes and the Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative to transform the bus stop on Gratiot Avenue and Conner Avenue into a “green bus stop” that will include a new bus shed and benches.

As Destiny Alfred, 15, helped to measure the depth of the hole before the first tree was planted, she paused to look at the handful of dirt she was holding.

“I really like being out here. I’m learning a lot about nature and gardening,” said Alfred, a student at Brenda Scott Academy. “This is a very positive experience for me and I would come and volunteer again.”


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