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
There are many spots in New York City where you can feel transported to another place and sometimes even another time. Mostly it happens in indoor spaces. You walk into a tiny Vietnamese restaurant and all of the sudden you could be in Hanoi, eating Pho from a steaming bowl on a stainless steel counter under the florescent lights. Or you could be in an indoor market examining the baskets full of guava and fresh tamarind pods as you feel up the avocados trying to find two that are ripe enough for today’s dinner and you could easily be in Mexico City. Rarely can you be transported from an outdoor space, because New York is so very New York.
6BC Garden in all its glory
There is a community garden on East 6th Street that does transport me – to England I go. It is what I imagine a garden would look like in someone’s big backyard. It is not manicured like a formal garden of the upper classes, but exuberant and lush. I read once that there are people in England who like to tend their gardens in the nude. I think that it is the kind of garden a naked gardener would have. A wannabee formal garden that is a tiny bit wild.
A tiny lily pond
When the gardeners took over the abandoned spaces in Loisaida and began to transform them, they salvaged the rubble. They used the brick and the broken pieces of ornate cornices carved in brownstone and limestone from the fallen buildings. The brick paths in the garden and the flowerbed edges are from pieces of fallen tenements. The buildings live on nestled in the good dirt.
a bench for contemplation
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