Last weekend we had the first sunny and warm days of spring. I visited community gardens with my friend Katy and our phone cameras. We stopped by 6BC Botanical Garden first. This garden began in 1981 and is a lovingly cared for and peaceful place. In the book Community Gardens of the East Village, gardener Cary York says, “One thing they did design wise that was so important was that someone wanted to build the raised boxes, and Diana said “Don’t do it, don’t do it. Well, if you’re going to do it, do them on a diagonal.” So suddenly, the garden had this whole diagonal thing which is so nice because it’s against the grid. Little by little people started lifting up the boxes and letting the soil be in the soil.”
photos taken with the Hipstamatic app using John S Lens and Dixie Film
Our next stop was the Sixth & B Garden. So many gardeners were out clearing the debris of winter and turning the warmed soil. I remember the group of mothers I used to hang out with when we brought our children to play in that garden. I ran into two of them that day. Even though we only socialized in the gardens, there is an intimacy to knowing someone that long and seeing their children now grown. I was interviewed by one of those children, a 20 year old named John, who I remember as a shirtless tow-headed toddler in baggy shorts, playing in the garden. He was doing a school project about community gardens. I was happy to see that the playhouse was still there.
Sixth & B Garden
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
Paths made from brick salvaged from fallen tenements
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
Rumor has it that this lot is up for grabs because it is owned by the city. A beautiful spot on Houston St. between C&D. Take it people! Bring some dirt.