Dreamy Gardenscapes in Alphabet City ~ East Village, NYC

With temperatures nearing 100F in Manhattan today, a pleasant stroll in the East Village soon turned into a sweaty saunter. Perhaps the only neighbourhood with such a good amount of community gardens, I welcomed them as regular rest stops as I made my way along Avenues A, B, and C.

After an entertaining morning (more on that in a later post), my final pit stop at the 9th Street Community Garden Park was the perfect end note. So well tended, so well cared for – it was an escape from the motion filled sun drenched streets.

The 9th Street Community Garden Park is one of the larger community gardens that I have come across. Walking along its haphazard brick- and rock paved pathways, unless I looked through a part of the steel fence not covered in green, I hardly noticed I was surrounded by busy streets. Instead, I felt still; I even treaded softly from fear of making too much noise. I heard the chirp of birds, photographed blooms, followed bees with my lens, while cooling down in the shade of overhanging vines and canopy provided by a 35 year old giant willow tree. Except for a few others – so silent, they startled me; the flora and the fauna, I felt as if I had the space to myself.

It was as if I has stumbled into a dream when I entered this lot of green. It was such a contrast to the heat of the day, and the chaos of the streets. The East Village is probably one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in New York – I’ve read it has changed dramatically over the years, so I can’t imagine what it was like way back when. Today, it’s gritty and it’s glam; it caters to the  middle class, and the homeless; it’s streets are strewn with trash, yet they surprise you by offering a few beautiful community gardens to enjoy.

Enjoy the peek inside my favourite park so far.

Located on the corner of 9th Street and Avenue C, it’s hard to think of this garden having been anything but a beautiful green space. Prior to 1978, it was a dreary corner lot in an unsafe part of the East Village.

In the late seventies, the members who transformed it were from the immediate neighborhood. Though as the city changed, so did the membership. Today, the garden is sponsored by a handful of members – who pay $15 a year, as well as by NY’s Green Thumb organisation. The green space faces a well-trodden street lined with delis, restaurants, and laundromats.

9th Street Community Garden is so diverse in its plantings – on one side you might see a bush of voluminous hydrangeas; on the other – mini tomatoes, yet to turn red. I read that there’s a beehive in the garden, and its bee keeper/owner sells honey at the 14 Street Union Square Market. I noticed the bees, but didn’t see the beehive.

Quirk factors abound. From the furnishings -there’s plenty of seating, to the more unexpected finds.

I nearly missed this well camouflaged rabbit in between purple daisies. I was so distracted; I was trying to zoom in on, and photograph, this busy bee.

When the garden began, members expanded and enriched the available land, gaining additional lots through the condemnation of and the razing of adjacent buildings.* It now encompasses one acre.

Lush vines overflow and evoke that sense of otherwordliness. A mix of moonflower, honeysuckle and bittersweet – they were planted over two decades ago.

The beauty of the community gardens is multifold. Firstly, it unites a diverse neighbourhood through mutual collaboration of what looks to me like, a labour of love.

Secondly, sharing the garden with the wider community is such a generous act. It’s what makes a neighbourhood so much more appealing and inviting. Apart for giving someone like me a pleasant respite from the heat, such spaces are used for theatre productions, music events, private parties, school outings, or simply as a place to gather with friends. Thirdly, the garden gives members a place to exercise sustainable living. Especially in a part of NY that has such a varied population (East Village is a mix of low and mid income levels), spaces like this support a healthier way of life.

The community garden is unlikely to expand any further. I read that when the Green Thumb Organisation was transferred from the Dept of Parks and Recreation to Dept of Housing Preservation and Development, a number of the East Village community gardens were destroyed to make way for low income housing.

I cannot find any information about the future of 9th Street Community Garden Park. For now, their objective is to garner more community interest and involvement.

If you’re in this part of NY, I encourage you to visit one of the gardens. They’re so accessible that they’re hardly secret… yet when you’re there, you feel like you’re the only one.

*http://www.earthcelebrations.com/gardens/gardens.html