For eight generations, descendants of Gen. Alexander Macomb — his statue is in Detroit’s Campus Martius Park —have owned and operated Grosse Ile’s Westcroft Gardens & Farm.
Now the 27-acre farm, sometimes called the “jewel of Grosse Ile,” is poised for the future with a new business plan, which includes an orchard of sweet cherry trees and a field of flowering lavender. Visitors will be able to harvest the cherries and lavender themselves.
The plan was devised by Erica Lee Jackson, who has been the manager of the farm since 2017. She’s a direct descendant of Macomb, who purchased the land from the Potawatomi Indians in 1776.
The farm on West River Road opened for this year’s season May 1, and gardeners can safely get the products the place is famous for, including azaleas, rhododendrons, annuals, perennials, organic vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs and a specially blended soil conditioner.
“In order to ensure the safety of you and our staff in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have phone ordering, virtual personal shopper appointments and curbside pickup in place,” Jackson said.
Visit westcroftgardens.com or the farm’s Facebook page to order or learn more about ordering.
Westcroft grows its own hybrid varieties of azaleas and rhododendrons created by Macomb’s great-grandson Ernest Stanton. He returned from serving in World War I and gradually converted the farm’s fields of hay into landscaped botanical gardens and added its first greenhouse. During World War II, the farm had another temporary change, when Stanton was asked to produce food for the military.
“He raised thousands of turkeys until V-J Day, after which he never wanted to see or hear a live turkey on the farm again,” according to Westcroft’s written history.
The farm’s new business plan has no provision for turkeys in its future, but it does have a pollinator garden that will be ready this summer with a seating area so visitors can enjoy butterflies, birds and bees.
“Eventually, we would like the area to become a certified wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Foundation, and be able to provide educational components that teach the ecological benefits of habitat gardening,” Jackson said.
Also new this summer will be a greenhouse, dubbed Azalea House, for use by the community. The space will be available to rent for weddings, graduation parties and other events.
“We are also looking into providing the space to community-benefiting organizations on certain days free of charge,” Jackson said. “We will also utilize the space to increase our educational and workshop offerings to our customers that will allow all of us to grow together.”
Jackson grew up in Connecticut and as a child, visited the Grosse Ile farm on holidays and summer vacations. She has a degree in international environmental policy, and a head for business.
“I knew the history of the farm and the family legacy, so after I graduated, I decided to move out here and just learn more about it,” Jackson said. “I was going to work there for a year and move on. I’ve been generally around ever since. I came back, left again and came back again, as is the nature of a lot of family businesses. When it was time for my aunt (Stanton’s granddaughter Denise De Beausset who ran the farm for 30 years) to retire, I was the only one in my generation who had ever worked here, so they asked me if I wanted to come back and take over.”
At that point, Jackson had about seven years of experience with the farm’s operations. As its new manager, she found she still had a lot to learn, and made many calls to her aunt, she said with a laugh.
“My background is more in business operations,” she said. “I’m very numbers oriented.”
In spite of that, she found that she loves the outdoor work involved in the farm’s operation.
“It’s very satisfying and very beautiful,” Jackson said. “You can actually see what you’ve done, and you get a sense of accomplishment.”
She has hired a horticulturist and staff that have experience and expertise with growing the farm’s prized plants.
“I’m very lucky to have such good staff that love what they do,” Jackson said. “They are really the ones that keep our standard stuff going.”
In addition to the “standard stuff,” this year Westcroft staff will plant 66 sweet cherry trees to grow into a pick-your-own orchard for families to enjoy the fruit and also the spring cherry blossoms.
“We are estimating that the trees will be of harvestable size around 2025,” Jackson said.
Next year, she plans to have a field of lavender planted, as well.
“Not only is lavender beautiful and versatile in its uses, it also is not liked by deer, which is always a large concern here on Grosse Ile,” Jackson said. “The lavender will provide another potential pick-your-own area in addition to creating the opportunity to provide lavender crafting workshops and products like sachets and essential oils.”
It’s not always easy to balance the farm’s financial needs with the weight of the family legacy, she said, but “it’s very rewarding work.”
“We are proud of our history and cannot wait to remain a place of joy and pride for everyone that comes.”