A Special Birthday

Tomorrow is the fifteenth anniversary of the opening of Detroit Garden Works.  I had been in the landscape design and construction business for ten years, when I decided to buy this building, and open a shop devoted to fine ornament and furnishings for gardens.  Though I hardly knew it at the time, it was a very big move for me. Shops such as this were few and far between in the US, and not all that common in Europe. I wanted to be able to offer my landscape clients greater depth.  Great  landscapes imply a site, a collaboration, a gorgeous and arranged collection of plants-and some architecture.  No plant or collection of plants fully represents a landscape.  But those objects I place in a garden name names-they go on to evoke memories, create an atmosphere, and provoke the eye.   Favorable circumstances enabled me to buy this property-an accountant common to both the seller and I who brokered the sale, and a friendly zoning ruling from Bloomfield Township.      

The closing took little time.  But the property sat from March until August-I had to work.  In late August of 1995, every truck I had pulled up, and parked.  We had a lot of work to do.   

The inside of the building-really rough.  Today my office and library occupies this space. 15 years ago, this space was a wreck.  This was the main office of the Little and David Machine Company, in the demolition phase.  Less than ideal-about all I had to offer this project was my willingness to work.  I hired a construction supervisor.  Everyone who worked for me helped to transform this space.   

Oil coated the floors, and splashed up the walls.  Reviewing these pictures, I am so pleased and amazed that I had the nerve to go ahead.  My Mom cried when she saw this building-no wonder.  In my mind-a great shop devoted to great objects for gardens.  No oil soaked surface would deter me.  I persisted.  These floors defied cleaning.  I finally hired a company to come in and shot blast the floors with steel shot.  Once the top 1/4 inch of concrete was ground off, they were clean; Rob and I mopped all of the floors with clear epoxy to seal the porous concrete.  

Months were devoted to the shovelling out phase.  Cleaning up and shovelling out a fouled site-this takes a lot of time.  Everyone who worked for me signed up, and delivered.  Every compelling story has much to do with the people who make that story happen. My group-they were great.  Fortunately, none of us were shy about getting dirty.  I was sure the space had not been cleaned in many years.         

The shovelling out-we drove trucks in and out of the building and to the dump for almost 3 months.     

Once the building was empty of all the debris-I was assessing spaces.  How did it feel? To be on my own?  Liked a rolling stone-just ask Bob Dylan.   

The greenhouse room-I removed the roof here, and  stood pat with the roof open to the skies for better than 3 months.  The rain washed away much of what worried me.  The smell of oil finally dissipated. We were able to start the construction phase-new walls would enclose the office space from the shop. The construction phase took 3 months; we opened March 29, 1996.  Two old clients had offered to throw me an opening party-what fun that was.  To still be here all these years later- even better.  My fifteenth anniversary-I am treasuring this moment.


  1. Deborah,
    Happy Anniversary my dear old friend. The fruits of your labor have given so much pleasure to us all. Wishing you many more wonderful years.

  2. Congratulations! Your ability to foresee and imagine something that does not exist is not only evident in your designs, but also in your belief that this could become something other than what it was – a mess! Best wishes for more wonderful years to treasure!

  3. Quite an endeavor and quite the accomplishment. Congrats on your anniversary.

  4. wow. Thank you for the story. You really did an amazing work by reahabiliting this construction. Bravo !!

  5. These pictures show the reality of work – hard, glorious, wearying, exasperating, fully necessary work! Chop wood, carry water; and the benefits continue to echo through the years.

    Looking forward to meeting you at the spring open house!

  6. Deborah,
    Congratulations to you and Happy Birthday Detroit Garden Works!

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