ALPENA - A year ago, when wild rabbits overran his back yard on Third Avenue, Jay Kilpatrick didn't know what to do. Since closing the Sonshine Garden Center on US-23, he had been growing flowers and shrubs in a backyard hoop house only to find his hard work being eaten up.
Enter Adam Degan, his older brother, Brandon, and a Jack Russell terrier. The three chased the rabbits out and Degan, who lives nearby, began hanging around.
Now 12, Degan is a part of Kilpatrick's extended family of children, foster children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He helps the 73-year-old sell the plants at the Alpena Farmers Market, handling transactions and making change when Kilpatrick is away.
Degan also has been showing signs of being a talented landscaper, Kilpatrick said.
"I couldn't do that if you put a spear in me," Kilpatrick said.
One of boy's first projects was to plant flowers around Kilpatrick's mail box, and the blooms thrived. But it wasn't beginner's luck. Last week, while Kilpatrick was away, Degan asked permission to make over a flower bed under a window in the front yard.
Although his young frame hasn't filled out yet, the youngster finished the 8-by-10 foot bed in less than four hours.
"There were herbs before and it looked a mess," Degan said. "They were matted down."
Degan cleared the bed, sifted fresh soil and rotted cow manure over the ground, and mounded the soil to raise the height. Above the patch is a window box full of trailing flowers.
The next step was to plant and stake tall tiger lilies against the foundation of the modest, white-sided home. For texture Degan added an ivy plant, a fern, a blooming echinacea and four hostas. More color was supplied by a row of daylillies. Finally, Degan watered everything in so that the plants would get a good start.
"It's just starting, but in the middle of August it might branch out," Degan said. "Next year it will be fuller."
Later, Degan said he will spread cedar mulch over the bed and finish off the rock border with brick. Meanwhile, he is watering the landscape morning and evening.
Kilpatrick said he was impressed with the Degan's skill, which he appears to have mastered on his own.
"When the Lord gives someone talent, that's a God-given talent," Kilpatrick said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.