Green garage gardens

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The Green Alley in 2011.


  • When we bought the building, the property was surrounded by cement on 3 sides. The backyard consisted of weeds and trash. See photos.
  • We wanted to make the ground surrounding the building as permeable as possible to avoid water going down the storm sewer, co-mingling with the raw sewage during rain events, then heading out to our lakes and streams.
  • We developed gardens in 5 main areas around the building:
    • the green alley
    • the back yard
    • the front yard and parking lot
    • the rooftop farm
    • the interior greenhouse

Goals and Design

Sustainability Goals

  • Our goal was to develop garden areas around the perimeter of the building (parking lot, front, back and alley) that contained at least 90% native species. (We are referring to plants that are native to Southeast Michigan). We also wanted to add appropriate plants (low-light) to the interior greenhouse that connected us to the alley.

Strategy and Design

  • Our overall strategy was "Right plant in the right place."
  • Our design process:

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  • We ran our ideas by Susan McBride of the Detroit Historic Commission to make sure we had approval from her organization.
  • We began the search for plant sources, and narrowed it down primarily to Wildtype Plants in Mason, Mi., and Native Plant Nursery in Ann Arbor, MI.

Selecting Native Plants


  • Maintenance involves:
    • watering regularly
    • weeding
    • picking up garbage
    • splitting plants and planting sprouts elsewhere
    • keep record of plant health
    • deadheading and otherwise cutting some plants down when blooms are done
    • managing rain barrels, if necessary
  • A note on maintaining permeable pavers: One of our biggest time-consumers is the maintenance of the permeable pavers. Because they enclose plant material within a small square of cement, they tend to form tiny micro-climates that can dry out plant material if exposed to too much sun. As a consequence, the groundcovers in the pavers need to be watered more than the plants in the beds. In addition, they do tend to attract weeds, and require hand-picking of the weeds (as opposed to the use of the hoe in the beds), which is quite time consuming. If we had to do it again, we would use more pea gravel in the pavers instead of the groundcovers. The permeability would be the same, and they would require a lot less weeding.

Materials / Suppliers




See also