Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The garden as antidote

The Gowanus Garden. Unofficial name. I have admired it for very many of my Brooklyn years. Nearly ten years ago Anne Raver wrote a wonderful piece about this tenacious garden on Union Street and she quoted me - I used big words: insurrection! Juxtaposition! I had been smitten by the riot of recent flowers. It was my first conversation with The New York Times. Later she wrote about our Harlem garden, and inbetween there was - notoriously - the Litter Mob article (remember the Litter Mob?) and also the flattering and lovely Cobble Hill terrace (and really the Frenchman-and-Marie) story, by Penelope Green.

The wheels turn. Some of them squeak. A lot.

Kirstin, the garden's creatrix, and I, became friends. I wrote another story about the Gowanus Garden, for Gardenista (visit the link for very nice pictures through the seasons). She and her husband David live just a few blocks from us. David is the source of unexpected and inspiring edible gifts. He'll arrive at the door with some acorn flour. Or a brace of grouse. Plucked woodcock.

Today, I began my day with a garden design - also for a neighborhood garden, and later a break in my afternoon laundry chore (the washing machines were churning and I had 25 minutes to spare), I charged to Whole Foods on my bicycle. I chose Union Street. The Gowanus Canal was misty, the tide high, and the bubbling white water spewing out anonymously at one poisoned end very sudsy, like our clothes. And just after the drawbridge, Kirstin's garden made me late. I stopped, and had a good look. Its edges were newly and neatly roped off, perennials cut back, daffodils in bloom, dianthus in bud.

The two lilacs are just thinking about opening.

The night's rain had cleaned the clever wine bottle retaining walls.

The daffodils are perhaps Mt. Hood. I must ask.

There is so much bad stuff going on; in the big world, in the world of family and friends' lives, in our own personal lives, that these small pauses in the ugliness are like a counter measure. A not-insignificant wall being held up to the evils of illness, or malice, or toxic indifference. These acts of beauty are the eloquent and botanical fuck you to the behavior or circumstances that can make life feel unbearable.

Inhale them while you can. Then pedal on.


  1. Guessing the daffodils are 'Thalia'. Have enjoyed your posts and other articles about the Gowanus Garden.

  2. I believe it could be Thalia too, after seeing some in a facebook gardening group. It is now on my wanted list. Beautifully written about gardens being a wall against the ugliness of life. I discovered your blog when I was having chemotherapy. You were still living in cobble hill then.i had a small concrete yard and wanted to make a garden but became very sick right after moving in. So I would look online for inspiration. Being a Gardener means to be hopeful and trusting in the future and this dreaming, reading and planning kept my spirits up and gave me something to focus on that wasn't cancer. Thank you for inspiring us, for making us think and for being part of your readers wall against life xx Amy Lee

    1. Thank you very much, Amy Lee. Did you ever get to make your garden?

    2. Yes I did! It was pretty much experimental to see what would grow in a north facing concrete yard with high walls. The bottom got the most sun. Fortunately in the summer we have daylight by 4 am and the walls were bright white. I Grew fuchsia, hosts, ferns, jasmine, lilies, huge begonias, astilbe, acquilegia, clematis, an acer, mint,parsley and a huge basil. I had 4 hanging baskets too.

  3. She's right (Amy Lee). A garden can lift one up - even when just in the planning stage. Iget so much joy every morning when i walk around to see what's open today, and again in the evening when i check back to make sure nothing needs immediate attention, and on good days many more times during the day. But this is the best time of all ... watching the buds to see who will be next to open,and being surprised when something comes up that i had forgotten i planted. The tiny gardens in NYC gave me so much inspiration and hope. sigh.

  4. Right now it's just snow drops and crocus here in Vermont...they are so very optimistic and courageous. I figure if they can carry on in the midst of snow squalls and chilly nights, so can I. Thank goodness for all the farmers, gardeners, crafters, poets, photographers, musicians and other kindred spirits here on the internet. How else would we hang on to our sanity these days? Thank you for being here, Marie. #persit

  5. Just looking at the pictures is a balm for the soul. The transformation of Union Street over the last decade has been pretty wild. But it is beautiful. My milkweed seeds just came in the mail and my heart is just waiting for the time I will spend on my fire escape today to plant them. The best gardens are the unexpected ones.

  6. From a friend in Canberra, on the botanical ' fuck you 'comment to dire circumstance: "LOUD APPLAUSE"

    Echoed by me.

  7. You are an antidote and have been for many years.


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