Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From Blight to Blossoms

Last night my husband and I were having dinner with my in-laws, who live in the Seminole Hills historic area in Pontiac, and we decided we had better get outside and enjoy the nice weather before we blinked and it was gone. We planned to go for a walk, but we didn't get any farther than across the street. The neighbors were outside working on their beautiful garden, and we had to stop and see the progress.

The garden is somewhat infamous in the area, and it was the subject of an article in the Oakland Press last summer. Two couples, Renee Voit-Porath and her husband, David Porath, along with neighbors Tina Graham and her husband, Bill Graham, lived on either side of a foreclosed home on my in-laws street, and after two years with no one living in it, the house was becoming an eyesore. The roof was leaking and the hole was barely covered with an ugly blue tarp, and pieces of the tarp were flying into the neighboring yards. It was an unfortunate spot of blight on an otherwise picturesque street.

The couples joked over dinner one night that they ought to buy the house and knock it down. When it looked like someone else might actually buy it and try to rent it out, they knew it was time to get serious. When the price was right, the couples bought the house and had it bulldozed.

Since then, the lot has been transformed into a beautiful garden. Each of the neighbors owns half, and they treat it like an extended backyard. One of the wives calls it her "Up North property."

There is clearly a green thumb or two between them. The garden is bursting with shrubs, trees and flowers - including a hedge and a tree transplanted from the old house's landscaping and grass from their own yards - and there was an asparagus planting-project underway just before our visit. Raspberry plants were beginning to creep up twisting stakes, and daffodils and some small, feathery orange flowers provided a flash of summery color here and there. There are plans for two small patios for enjoying tea in the sunshine. The Pontiac Garden Club has asked the couples to be the first stop on their annual garden tour.

The landscaping in the neighbor's own yards offer a glimpse of what could be. A paverbrick path winds around bright green hostas and a sea lily-of-the-vallies; a dreamy wisteria vine hangs heavy with delicate purple clusters. Last summer, my mother-in-law drooled over a clematis vine covered in blossoms (her own clematis has yielded about four blooms in the last few years) that climbs up the side of one of the houses.

The couples are clearly dedicated to their mutual project. "I haven't even gone inside since I got home from work," Tina said.

"If you ever see someone out here with miner's lamp on in the dark, it's me," said Renee, who bought a headlamp for nighttime gardening, with a clump of weeds in her hand.

The dirt seems to be honoring their hard work.

The moral of the story: with a little dedication, a little pride, and a little community spirit, Pontiac can be known for its blossoms, rather than its blight.

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