spring flowering in orchard alley

It’s been the longest winter. We were wearing winter coats last week. Recently there were a couple of days where it went up to the mid-seventies and I saw girls walking around in shorts and people broke out their sandals not even caring that they hadn’t had a pedicure. Then the next day we were back in scaves and mittens, the sky was grey and the wind was biting your face. We’ve been so wishful and optimistic. I broke out my new yellow spring biking jacket on a sunny morning only to tie a sweater from work  around my neck as a make-shift scarf for the bike ride home.

Nevertheless, nature will not be held back and there is a flowering in spite of the cool weather. I took these photos in Orchard Alley, a community garden on East 4th Street with my new camera that I’m learning to use. The garden was tranquil despite it being a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Two gardeners were happily digging in the dirt and two little girls slowly strolled on the brick paths and smelled the newborn flowers.

Orchard Alley is peaceful jewel-like garden with brick paths and garden beds constructed with rocks from the rubble left behind. I remember it when it was a shanty town in the early nineties, rows and rows of structures in grey dust. The gardeners, the people who are compelled to make something out of nothing, put their hands on it and now it is a splotch of green in an urban landscape. If you walk past the garden in the early morning, right before dawn, you will hear a symphony of birds who sleep in a giant bamboo. Their chattering to each other when they rise, is so loud, so sonorous and so extraordinary in New York City that you have to blink and look around to remember where you are.

Orchard Alley community garden

Orchard Alley community garden

Paths made from brick salvaged from fallen tenements

Paths made from brick salvaged from fallen tenements

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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.

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el jardin del paraiso – the middle years

In the middle of New York City, I can hear bullfrogs and see fireflies at night in the summer from the community garden next to our building. Until the kabosh came down, for many years we woke to the sound of roosters crowing. The garden had been a rubble-strewn lot that was reclaimed by the community and became a park (click here for early history and photos). As soon as the green took hold, children flocked to the garden. It was a good place for playing tag and red rover and climbing trees. The mulberry tree feeds neighborhood kids every June with organic berries. They perch on the branches like birds focused on berry picking with their mouths and fingers stained purple.

Oona – Rites of Spring celebration. Photo: David Schmidlapp.

Oona – Rites of Spring celebration. Photo: David Schmidlapp

The elementary school on the block holds classes in the garden. One year the students constructed a weather station that I thought was brilliant and I would watch from the window as they measured the wind and humidity and jotted down data in their notebooks. The children identify plants and test soil and study in the sun.

Photo: David Schmidlapp

Children have always helped with the work in the garden, because they like the dirt and moving rocks around.

Photo: David Schmidlapp

Photo: David Schmidlapp

Camelia and Julie on a garden workday

By the year 2000, the garden had turned the corner. It became lush and wild. The dirt was soil and not brick dust. Things grew by themselves. Wild birds and firefiles came. You can smell the dirt and the green as soon as you approach El Jardin. You can hear crickets in the middle of Manhattan.

Pirates in the wilderness at a birthday party.

A lovingly handmade pinata at the mulberry tree

All photos thanks to David Schmidlapp – www.lapphoto.com

garden alley party menu

The homestead is adjacent to one of the most beautiful community gardens in Loisaida. We recently marked a celebration with a little party in the alleyway that abuts the garden. We call it the alley, but it is really a long courtyard that is below the surface of the garden. There is a wind tunnel there, so even on the most blistering New York summer day, breezes will stir. We have garden furniture there and a communal grill.




It was a late supper party so most of the food was prepared beforehand and we just grilled burgers. When I was a kid, all my friends raved about the burgers my mother made. It was because they were seasoned. They were Cuban hamburgers.

Garden alley party menu:

Crostini with tomato & basil
Chipotle deviled eggs – this is my recipe from a previous post

Cuban Hamburgers recipe
2lbs ground beef
1 med onion super finely chopped
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano – I use dried oregano from the Dominican Republic, but that is hard to find. Rancho Gordo has comparable oregano. Or use fresh.
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and shape into patties. Do not pack tightly into patties or they will grill up dry. Grill or broil. Serves six.

Beet Salad with Feta Cheese and capers
French Potato Salad
Califlower Gratin

Chocolate Pound Cake – your family and friends will love this cake and beg you to make it again. The recipe is from chef Douglas Rodriguez’s book Latin Flavors on the Grill. One of my favorite cookbooks.

loisaida spring

Loisaida is blooming. We have the highest concentration of community gardens in the US. Here is a peek at our spring.

budding weeping willow at the Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez on Loisaida Ave

jasmine blooms heavy with scent

Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez gazebo