A vacant structure in Detroit’s Midtown is now breathing new life thanks to the hard work of some volunteers from one local agency. Ryan Schirmang, a creative project manager at Team Detroit, helped organize the Hanging Gardens, the first vertical garden project on an abandoned building in Detroit.

Schirmang recruited 75 eager volunteers from the Dearborn office and dispatched them to the Forest Arms apartment building at the corner of Second and Forest, near Wayne State University. The apartment building, chosen as the site for this year’s project, was ravaged by a fire in 2008 and is currently in the process of being rehabbed to its former glory. Read more about the building here.

Schirmang said the project grew out of two things he was thinking about at the time.

Volunteers planted English Ivy, Vinca Vines and variety of hardy, flowering plants into 200 Woolly Pocket gardens filled with organic compost. The pockets were then zip-tied to chains and hoisted onto pre-set hooks in the window frames via sky-lifts. When the lifts broke down, volunteers resorted to carrying pockets up the stairs. “It was kind of like walking after riding in a limo, but we managed,” said Schirmang.

The University Cultural Center Association (UCCA) and Greening of Detroit provided resources and expertise to help make the project happen. Greening sent out their head forester to help with the planting, while UCCA donated funds for the plant and soil, secured the building and assisted in the volunteer effort. Members of the organizations have also continued to water and fertilize the plants throughout this summer.

The Juliets, a Baroque Pop band from the Detroit area, entertained volunteers with a rich sound that seemed to complement the architecture. And Single Barrel Detroit, a group of artists that describe themselves as part urban explorer/part filmmaker, captured video of the band playing in and around the abandoned structure. Chris Turner, has continued to take daily photos of the building, with plans to assemble them into a time-lapse animation of the growth by the end of this summer.

Schirmang said the next step with the project is to begin swapping out some of the dead or dying plants with new ones. “It’s very much a learning process,” he said. All of the plants will be removed in late September and stored in a greenhouse over winter, where they’ll stay until they return to Forest Arms or another structure in need of life again next spring.

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