the little garden that could

I’m very proud and pleased to present my first guest post: The Little Garden That Could, Guerrilla Gardening in the East Village, written and photographed by my dear friend,  Raquel Shapira, artist and neighborhood royalty.


End of the summer, 2010

The city just completed their new traffic design along lower First Avenue introducing a new bike lane and crosswalk islands featuring a young tree on every corner of the crossing street.

Early September, 2010

A few sunflowers plants appear around the tree on the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street, which has 5 X 5 feet of soil surrounding it (the tree on this corner is Zelkova serrata or Japanese zelkova). A young woman, whose name I cannot remember, plants those, and disappears. It’s a dry month and the plants need water.

The obvious thing to do is to water the plants. However, there’s no hose or anything to connect a hose to. I buy a watering can from Saifee’s, a hardware and gardening store right across the street from the island. The Tile Bar, which is the closest establishment to the island, allows me to keep the can there and use their water. By the end of October the sunflowers bloom, changing the face of the block.

2_SunflowerWHeartSpring, 2011

Small sunflower sprouts begin to appear (all from seeds of last year’s sunflowers—the sunflower is an annual flower). A resident from the neighborhood plants an iris, a yucca, and a few other flowers. I notice he’s also been “weeding” the sprouts. I need a solution for protecting the sprouts. Here it is. Thank you Tile Bar for providing the cocktail straws.


August, 2011

The sunflowers are growing 7 feet high and are ready to bloom.

One plant, on the south side of the garden, is nearing a full bloom, but on a weekend night some drunken idiot beheads it and breaks my heart. Fuck.


A lesson learned. Having flowers in an open space, without high fence, a gate with a key is beyond challenging. As Amy Stewart eloquently said in her blog Garden Rant.

“Anyone who thinks that gardeners are naturally generous people, eager to share their bounty and always glad to see the neighbors enjoying the beauty and tranquility that their garden has brought to the neighborhood, has never been around my place in early spring. Sometimes having a garden can be so aggravating that I don’t know why I even bother. I am referring, of course, to the problem of flower theft.”

As the lower plants are flourishing, the sunflowers—one by one—are ripped off.

Summer, 2012

This summer is more of the same, although this year I do not include sunflowers. I plant a few coneflowers. The garden is pretty, but hardly lush.

Early summer, 2013

Wow. Finally after 3 years the yucca plant is flowering. What an amazing chandelier of white flowers. The Iris is looking pretty but the mini rose bush is sad-looking. A friend buys Celosia—some are doing great, others not as good. The garden is beginning to look lush. With the help of Tile Bar, we pay someone to build a fence. It’s a wooden white fence, which makes the garden somewhat more formal yet sweet.

Late summer, 2013

Arriving one Friday afternoon the garden is upside down. After 3 years, the city decides the cement that was used to build the islands was not strong enough. Millions of dollars are spent to re-do the islands. This is what I see.


A week later

The workers are done. Island is re-built, and to my astonishment the workers erect the fence back, but most of the plants are gone. My friend Rose and I decide to get 40 mixed bulbs of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth and stick them in the ground. The show must go on.

Spring, 2014

After the coldest winter of my life living in NY, spring finally arrives bringing with it new, colorful life.


Summer, 2014

I get busy planting new plants. A friend gives me “mammoth” sunflower seeds. The package says they should grow up to 10 to 13 feet high. Who would bother with those? I sow the seeds. You already know how that story ends . . . sadly.

I get an idea to experiment with growing vines around the tree. Saifee’s Gardening store only has Cypress vine seeds so I buy them and sow them around tree. Within a few months they begin to attach themselves to other plants so I buy a yard of chicken wire, place it around the tree and direct the vines to the wire.



And that’s how it’s done in a nutshell. It’s all been a wonderful experiment. All you need is a watering can and good intentions.

Next year it may be a mix of wildflower seeds. We shall see.


the garden in winter

In the most urban of cities, I look out my window and see a meadow. The meadow is there because of urban blight gone good. From the empty lots sprung the meadows. We call it the garden and it is one of the many community gardens in Loisaida.

The past weekend’s snowstorm brought out the neighborhood children in droves on a sunny Saturday morning when the garden was a winter wonderland of fluffy new snow – the kind that’s perfect for snowmen, the building of forts and snowball fights. It was lovely to hear the children’s laughter all day long until the snow turned blue as dusk fell. I was reminded of my girls when they were little and played in the garden in winter.

All the photos are by David Schmidlapp.

rsz_1ecamoona1 rsz_ecamoona2cropped rsz_eoonasnow rsz_eoona2rsz_eshadows5 rsz_etable rsz_eweed1rsz_el_jardin_nite

harvest arts festival in loisaida’s gardens

Loisaida’s community gardens were abuzz this past weekend as the first Harvest Arts Festival kicked off. Twenty-four of the forty community gardens in Loisaida participated with music, poetry, theater, films and workshops on art, health, fun and environmental concerns.

El Sol Brillante Garden on East 12th St. Harvest Arts Festival.

Loisaida has more community gardens than anywhere else in the city. The gardens are like little kingdoms unto themselves, so different are they from one another. Some are tiny verdant jewels tucked in between narrow tenements with gravel paths and tranquil shade gardens. Others are sprawling meadows with chickens and rabbits roaming free. Some have stages for performance, outdoor film screenings, and yoga. Others have children’s play equipment, tree houses and sandboxes. There are those with individual garden plots –  some sprouting flowers and others growing food. From vacant rubble-filled lots, the gardens were created by people who banded together and occupied the discarded land – seizing the opportunity that the abandonment had created. Today, they are still cared for and grown by dedicated volunteers.

The 1st Harvest Arts Festival was organized by Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens (LUNGS). Here is an excerpt from the program notes written by organizer Charles Krezell: “If you want to study democracy in action, don’t go to Washington, join a garden in Loisaida. These gardens are the purest form of democracy we have in this city. We are groups of people who come together for mutual purpose and try to sort out our differences. Each garden a mini-experiment in government, we come up with our own rules. Some work through consensus, some compromise, some are dictatorships, some oligarchies. They are frustrating and fascinating, dysfunctional and utilitarian all at once. There is social unrest and class warfare over where to plant the dahlias…”

6th & B Garden has a vibrant events program.

The festival was so rich with activity that I actually covered only a sliver of what took place.  Every garden I made it to had lots of food. A celebration of the harvest in the ancient way, with food and friends and community.

Art Rumble outside of Orchard Alley Garden

I went to a workshop on the Bokashi Method of recycling food waste for fertilizer at a beautiful corner garden on 12th St. They have a slot in the fence where folks drop off their food waste and they turn it into good soil with this method. They are now recycling tons more food waste than with the basic composting method and their garden’s soil is rich, black and teeming with earth worms.

Bokashi Workshop

fermented food waste for the gardens

We then headed to La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez Garden where they had a workshop going on about creating mud balls using the same technique of nurturing micro-organisms to clean polluted waterways.

Mudballs and Millie

La Plaza Cultural Garden – Haystack fun

Seed saving envelopes workshop and buttons for sale at 6th & B Garden

Grilling at El Sol Brillante Garden

The Campos Garden was full of whimsical “Litterbugs” made from plastic waste. They also had a really good spread of food there.

The cold snap and rain on Sunday made things fluid and performers moved to gardens with shelters. 9th and C Community Garden was one of those.

It was great to hear the honeyed voice of Odetta Hartman, a Loisaida girl accompanied by Billy Aukstik

Finally, I was lucky enough to encounter the renowned jazz musician Giuseppe Logan sitting in El Jardin del Paraiso playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the soft October rain.

Giuseppi Logan