A garden of vegetables, flowers and fruit trees blossoms stands where two empty, burned-out lots once stood.
The Stoepel Community Garden sprouted after neighbors banded together to remove the eyesore left about 10 years ago when an electrical fire destroyed two houses on the block west of Livernois and two blocks south of west Seven Mile Road.
Wilma Rush, who has lived on the block for 37 years with her husband, Alonzo Rush, witnessed the destruction and resulting dilapidation from her front porch. She lives just across the street.
Stoepel Block Club President Evelyn House asked Wilma Rush to lead the effort to turn the ugly littered lots into a place of beauty.
There were several reasons to turn to Rush. She’s active in the block club, wanted to help make the area look better, and had experience with making gardens grow.
An Arkansas native, she recalls picking cotton on her grandfather’s land as a child.
“I love vegetable gardens and flowers are not hard to grow,” said Rush whose home is adorned with flowers.
With that in mind, she also was willing to either run her water hose or haul buckets of water across the street, paying the higher water bills demanded to nourish the garden.
A community effort got the garden off the ground six years ago. The women’s husbands, Alonzo and Howard House, helped by cutting the grass and clearing the lots. Other neighbors dug in to help clean the lots of debris.
“It’s a lot of work,” Alonzo Rush said.
Neighbors also pitched in their own pennies to pay for the project.
Years of toil, clearing the two lots, building raised beds, hauling in fresh dirt – which she’d like more of now – planting seedlings and seeds, have brought forth an assortment of crops: cucumbers, yellow squash, okra, eggplant, zucchini, hot peppers, bell peppers, collard and turnip greens, kale, white and red potatoes, watermelon – and three varieties of tomatoes.
Trees bear apples, cherries and peaches.
An array of colorful flowers attracts butterflies and adds to a picturesque scene, punctuated by towering sunflowers.
The space includes picnic tables and some chairs donated by people on the block.
A core group of about seven neighbors helps out regularly. A few have their own plots.
Evelyn House said the children help out as well.
“Some of them didn’t know how to work lawnmowers but they leaned,” House said. “They’re meeting people on the block and they have a place to go.”
Wilma Rush noted all the neighbors are welcome to pick the ripe produce.
“I’d rather see somebody take it than to see it go bad,” she said.
As Wilma Rush sat on her porch recently, she looked across the street and admired the blooming flowers and vegetables.
Every few moments neighbors waved as they walked or drove by.
Nearly everyone respects the garden, she said. One exception: a group of kids who broke a few of the small trees.
When a car pulled into the driveway across the street, a young girl hopped out Wilma Rush’s face brightened. “This child helps out a lot in the garden,” Rush said. “Her mother said she’ll help me anytime I need her.”
Seeing children care for the garden is a bonus, Evelyn House said.
“ They understand what it feels like to make something pretty and to make foods grow,” she explained. “They know that things grow; they don’t just come from the store.”