A bit like the literary tree that grows in Brooklyn, an unexpected garden tucked into a city lot behind the Lafayette Coney Island and across the street from the Westin Book Cadillac hotel offers inspiration to office workers and sightseeing visitors.
On a downtown Detroit plot of land where the Lafayette Building once stood, 35 clean, simple rows of raised garden beds cultivate ideas for domestic gardeners.
Among the inspired visitors is Jordan Medeiros, whose Indian Village home garden is sprouting peas, carrots, radishes, and cabbage for the first time, thanks to his regular strolls through Lafayette Greens, where beauty and function are equally tended.
I always wanted a formal garden,” Medeiros says. “It never occurred to me to plant vegetables. But here [at Lafayette Greens] I saw how vegetables can be pretty and decorative. Why not plant a radish instead of a bulb?”
Last season, Lafayette Greens yielded more than 800 pounds of produce — all of which was donated to Gleaners Food Bank. Produce in the downtown patch, bounded by Michigan, Shelby, and Lafayette, grows stylishly. Beds of oregano and other herbs are punctuated with spring bulbs. Lavender serves as decorative hedging. Pansies cozy up to asparagus. And every aspect of the garden is meticulously manicured.
Farmington Hills-based landscape architect Kenneth Weikal and site designer Beth Hagenbuch wanted Lafayette Greens to provide nourishment while illustrating the art of food, so they took their design cues from the traditional French potager, or kitchen garden, where the edible is also beautiful and the ornamental seems to make healthful eating that much more appealing.
“We wanted a formal garden design,” Hagenbuch says. “We knew there would be people walking through here in business clothes. It needed to have an urban vibe. But at the same time, you’ve got all these textures, scents, and colors. And it is very productive.”
Although home gardens don’t typically mix beauty and function, that blending is a relatively easy and creative way to infuse an outdoor space with new life, says Lafayette Greens Manager Gwen Meyer. The garden plan is based on companion planting, the practice of growing certain plants close to each other because of known nutritional and production benefits. For example, Meyer says, marigolds help asparagus thrive and cabbage can get a boost from geraniums. The result is something fresh and unexpected for any gardener who ever thought there’s only one place for tomatoes.