I’m not much of one for making New Year’s resolutions, I do like to take some time during the holidays to reflect on events of the past year, and to make plans for the coming year. While doing so recently, my thoughts drifted back to a visit I made to New York City , a few weeks before the cataclysmic events of September 11 .
I had decided that while in New York I would like to meet some of the urban gardeners who have made use of vacant lots to grow vegetables and flowers. I learned that there are over 10,000 of these gardens throughout the city.
The one I visited, the Liz Christy Garden, is located in the Bowery, and is in its fourth decade of existence. It is a narrow garden, perhaps 30 feet wide, and 200 feet long. It is surrounded by a high fence and has two locking gates. This is New York, so if the garden were left unlocked, all the vegetables and flowers would be stolen. Each gardener has a key.
According to one fellow who has been a participant since the beginning, the lot was covered with 8-10 feet of garbage when they began. Each week a group would get together and fill large plastic bags with trash, setting them on the curb for pick up by the city, 80 to100 bags per week. They did this for a full year. They improved the soil with tons of manure from the stable used by the mounted police. It was a long process
I visited the Liz Christy garden on a hot, steamy evening. Once inside the gates it was cooler, and there were mature trees and beautiful flowers. There were a few vegetables, and vines climbing skyward on the neighboring building. There was a little gazebo with a picnic table, and a garden shed for tools that is kept locked. It was a Friday night, and the gardeners were serving drinks and having a barbecue.
I was greeted by Tippy and George, the two cats who live there. Tippy and George do public relations and keep down the rat population. George only has 3 legs, having been run over by a downtown bus some years ago. He still works hard on rodent patroI, I was told, and is paid in crunchies.
There is a nice series of pools for fish, turtles and aquatic plants. One of the gardeners, Laura, was very excited because a turtle that has been there for 12 years actually laid eggs for the first time this year. Some of the other turtles lay eggs every summer, but this one had not, and she had even considered getting hormone shots for the barren female.
Laura was worried because the eggs were laid very late in the season. She said she was thinking about bringing the youngsters to her apartment to spend the winter in her bath tub, but only if she determined that the young turtles were too small to overwinter outdoors.
Although the idea of keeping painted turtles in the tub may sound a bit nutty, it isn’t. Laura had a 12 year old daughter, a special needs child, who failed to wake up one morning two years ago. She had died in her sleep, and Laura fell apart. But she had a plot in the garden, and found that she could keep herself going by spending time there. By surrounding herself with plants and turtles… and gardeners.
My memories of that evening in a New York garden gave me a different perspective on the city, and makes the city’s gentler nature since September 11 more readily understandable. It also pointed out to me how lucky I’ve been in life. My loved ones and I have good health. I have friends who care about me. I do work that I love, I learn something nearly every day, and my gardens thrive. I wish the same to all of you. Happy New Year.
This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.
–Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.