The Milwood U-Pick Garden: One woman’s way to engage neighbors and spread the creative spirit

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Milwood series. If you have a story about the neighborhood please let us know here.

You can miss it if you pass quickly — the Rosemary, thyme, basil, and parsley growing in the wide curb lawn in the 2000 block of Paddington Road.
But plenty of Milwood Neighborhood residents recognize the street-side herb garden as a welcoming, one-of-a-kind treat.

“Oooo, I could use basil,” Jennifer says on the Milwood Neighborhood Hangout Facebook page.

“Very cool. Thank you,” writes Jill.

An appreciative Lauren writes, “We’ve so enjoyed stopping by for fresh oregano and cilantro and chives.”.

“I love your gardens and you guys have done a great job. Thank you for your generosity,” Shannon writes.
The Milwood U-Pick Herb Garden is located on a curb lawn in the 2000 block of Paddington Road.After using the neighborhood Facebook page, to see what others were doing during the COVID-19 shutdown, Jaishree Frank says, “it just felt like people were doing a lot for neighbors, reaching out and being supportive. It was nice.”

She really likes gardening. So she used that to make her contribution. 

“So I just put some plants out front,” she says. “My husband dug up some grass between the sidewalk and the road and transplanted some of my larger plants that started from seed. A few people dropped off some plants and we had an herb garden.”
During its first summer, the unassumingly titled Milwood U-Pick Herb Garden featured lavender, Rosemary, thyme, basil, sage, lemon thyme, Bee Balm, Lemon Balm, chives, and lemongrass. Using social media, Frank invited neighbors to take whatever they think they can use.
“A lot of it is stuff that I can use in my products,” Frank says, referring to the online bath and body products she makes using plants and herbs from her backyard garden. 

Jaishree Frank and her husband Brad decided to till the curb lawn in front of their home to share herbs she was growing in their backyard.Some people stop by, she says, “Or they post on the Facebook page saying, “Hey, Jaishree Frank, I made some spaghetti sauce with your oregano today,’ or something like that. It’s fun. It’s just a fun thing to do.”
The garden has a small plastic container with garden shears in it.
“Whenever something is ready to go, I post on the Milwood Neighborhood Hangout Facebook page, saying, ‘Hey, we have basil’ or ‘Hey, we have lots of thyme or sage,’ and people come by and clip what they want and my dogs bark at them like crazy from the front window.”
Frank, 47,  and her husband, Brad, have a boxer named Rosie and a terrier named Herbie.
For her bath and body products line, called Body Love Garden, she produces personal care items including bath balms, bath salts, body scrubs, facial masks, and foot scrubs. And she enjoys the creativity that comes with gardening and using herbs and plants.
“Just mixing the different herbs and flowers and coming up with different scents and trying to make new products,” is part of what she likes about the business, Frank says. “I never made clay masks before this year. Now I’m thinking about seared oils or men’s products. I feel like the possibilities are endless. And that’s kind of fun.”  

Frank, whose father was an avid gardener, became more focused on making natural bath and body products about two years ago after making them for about 10 years as gifts for family members and friends. She began selling them last May as an Etsy Inc. online shop. And her products have been selling since Labor Day at the Mason Jar Plant Shop at 116 W. South St. in downtown Kalamazoo.
Of creating products, she says, “I started doing it at Christmas time primarily to make gifts for my sisters and my nieces and my friends. I just really got into it and then eventually it evolved into making things with stuff that I grew myself. … I guess I just wanted to use things that were more natural and it was a hobby. I had so many plants, I felt I needed to do something with them.”
She has tried to share the creative experience with the young men in the On-Trac program she has managed for the past four years at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. As part of that long-term residential treatment program, Frank helped her juvenile protegees start a summer garden project four years uses a small courtyard area that was a patch of grass until, she says, “I asked the maintenance people to till it for us.”
The latter part of “On-Trac” stands for Transformation, Respect, Accountability, and Courage to Change in Kalamazoo. Frank says she takes satisfaction in the autonomy she has in running the juvenile home program, “and I like the creative aspects of it; being able to expose the kids to different activities and ideas that they might not have had otherwise. It’s an unfortunate place to be so I try to make it something that they’ll at least get something out of.”
She has had the teens grow cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables at the home and sell them as part of an in-house farmers market for staff members or give the produce away to the Loaves & Fishes food pantry.
“Also we went down to the kitchen and made zucchini bread and fried green tomatoes and last summer we made pickles,” she says.
Frank, who grew up in the Detroit-area and relocated to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University, has worked for Kalamazoo County for more than 20 years.
She says the tiny Milwood U-Pick Herb Garden has allowed her to connect with neighbors, at least online, unless she happens to meet them when she hears her dogs barking in the direction of the herb garden.
Despite the loss of personal contact that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic, she says, “I like it because it’s a way to socialize with the neighbors … With all of the social distancing, you can’t really get to know people more in the neighborhood.”
Some people have asked her about planting vegetables. But she says there are a lot of rabbits and other critters in the area that would make that difficult in the space she is using.
For the time being, she is pleased with how things have gone with the U-Pick Herb Garden and she has plans to do more with it next year. It’s her way of giving back to the neighborhood.
“It's just a really giving neighborhood,” she says. “People are always offering to help each other on the website, on our Facebook page. If people need something and they ask for it on the Facebook page there are lots of people volunteering to help them out. I just wanted to be a part of that.”
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.