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Alice Marczewski Schacht, Detroit, Mich.

Michigan Veterinarian Weaves Her Garden Into the Community

Alice Marczewski Schacht
Alice shares her gardens with her kids, her pets, her clients and her community.

Most gardeners have their hands full keeping up with the chores in their own backyards. Alice Marczewski Schacht gardens almost every inch of the quarter-acre city lot that surrounds her home, and also finds time to tend gardens at her veterinary clinic in urban Detroit. While these each of these two gardens is beautiful to behold, they are grown with quite different purposes in mind.

The Home Garden

Alice's home garden has evolved over the last 13 years. She is slowly getting rid of the lawn and creating garden areas for perennial flowers, vegetables and fruits. With three kids (ages 7, 13, 16), two dogs and three cats, the yard has to serve multiple functions. "I like building island beds. They are easier to care for and make it clearer for the kids and pets to know where the garden begins and ends," says Alice. Her perennial beds are designed to have something in color from March until Christmas. The flower show starts in spring with the snowdrops and Hellebores, continues through summer with coneflowers, roses, rudbeckias, daylilies and coreopsis and is still flowering in late fall with asters and annuals such as snapdragons. "My philosophy with perennials is if they don't survive on their own, they're out. I don't have time to fuss over them," she says."

The vegetable garden consists of three, 8x15-foot raised beds. While most of the vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash, are planted here, Alice doesn't hesitate to pop a vegetable in among the flowers. "I let sunflowers self sow in the vegetables and train cucumbers or squash up them," she says. "Last year I even tried growing tomatoes and cardinal vine together. The cardinal vine grew all around the tomato trellis but didn't reduce the amount of tomatoes I picked," she says. "The bright red fruits and red flowers were a beautiful combination to look at."

Alice also loves growing fruit. "I have planted lots of berries, including strawberries, raspberries, currants and grapes," she says. "We also grow fruit trees, such as apples, pear, plums, and cherries. I like making jams and jellies."

The Work Garden

While the home garden is all about producing food and flowers for her personal use and enjoyment, Alice's work garden is about inspiration and show. "Our veterinary center is in a poor section of inner-city Detroit," says Alice. "I wanted to show the community you could grow beautiful gardens even in this urban setting."

Alice Marczewski Schacht
Sunflowers create a splash of cheery color around Alice's veterinary clinic in Detroit.

The location of her clinic is on a previous waste dump site. Alice knew the first priority was to build the soil. "We removed the rubble and added horse manure, wood chips, and even shredded boxes to build up the soil," she says. "I've found mixing vetch seed with sunflowers works really well for soil building. The vetch fixes nitrogen in the soil for the sunflower to grow," she says. Alice has a showplace 50x20-foot sunflower bed in the front of her veterinary office that stops people in their tracks. She has also planted edible shrubs in the parking lot, along with tough perennials, including daylilies and butterfly-attracting plants, such as butterfly bush and anise hyssop. "We even have self-sown snapdragons in the pea gravel around the building," she says.

"Not only are there plenty of flowers for people in the neighborhood to enjoy, but the birds and butterflies come to this peaceful oasis, too," says Alice. "I think the gardens are attractive to clients, as well," she says. "People think if we can take care of their landscape in such a caring way, we would probably be equally caring with their pet," says Alice.

Tools of the Trade

To stay on top of her two gardens, Alice needs to work smart. It all starts with the soil and she has been composting for years. "I still have my original Pyramid Composter," she says. "I like it because it's not too large and I can move it around the garden to where I need to fill it," she says.

With all her flowers, battling slugs is a perennial problem. "Since the dogs are roaming the yard it's important to me to use a safe slug bait," says Alice. "I've used diatomaceous earth effectively in the past, and this year I'm trying Sluggo slug bait for the first time," she says.

To keep all of her perennials standing tall, and help keep the dogs out of garden areas with young plants, Alice uses Linking Stakes and Support Rings. "They are probably more ornamental than I need, but they're great for sectioning off an area to keep the dogs out while the plants get established, or to just help prop up a tall plants, such as lilies, that are falling over," says Alice.

Good Reasons to Garden

"I love being a mom and a vet, but I love gardening even more," says Alice. "It gives me exercise, I'm out in the sunshine and I can teach my kids about nature, beauty, quiet and spirit," she says. "The veterinary center garden is about changing people's attitudes about living in the inner city. The garden speaks for itself as an example of what's possible," says Alice.

We salute Alice's gardening enthusiasm and are happy to know that her garden is always just a few steps away—even when she's at work!

Last updated: 10/24/15