Monday, March 28, 2022

#18thStreetPollinators - nothing to see, here

I feel like a cat who has just covered up a smelly thing in their litterbox and has dusted off their paws and wants nothing more to do with it. What, that? That wasn't me?! 

But here goes.

Two Wednesdays ago I ignored all the things I should have been doing and went to my friend Hannah's house in Park Slope to dig up plants. She was moving, packing up, and going on a big adventure, and had invited me to take anything in her garden (above) that might appeal to me. I was thrilled, and told her about the park on 18th Street and the plants it needed, and she said I was welcome to them. (For the backstory, visit these links for the #18thStreetPollinator garden, Parts One and Two.)

If only I could undo it.

Hannah lent me her garden clogs. It was muddy. I dug while a cardinal sang.

Very little had emerged, yet, but investigative digging revealed three intriguing mystery plants from a Brooklyn Botanic Garden sale. They had succulent white roots and were making lipstick-pink shoots. I found and dug up the dormant rootstocks of Japanese anemones and astilbe, which were carefully arranged in milk crates that Hannah gave me. The hostas of summer could not be located in mid-March. One crate was devoted to ferns. As I worked a procession of people from a Buy Nothing group perused some stellar free stuff in the apartment. 

As nearby church bells rang noon I pruned back unruly raspberry canes and dug them up with chunks of earth attached to their roots. A loose-limbed and very prickly rambling rose followed. Hannah said its flowers were white. I imagined them in bloom in early summer, and raspberries making fruit for visitors to the park. 

Along with plants donated by the Gowanus Nursery and by Alyse, a neighbor and Instagram friend, this collection would actually create a sense of structure for the plantless park around the corner from where we live. Flowers for pollinators and people. 

When everything was ready I fetched and double-parked the car Brooklyn-style, loaded up, and drove the plants to 18th Street. (Sorry about the plastic trash bags, but that rose really was very prickly.)

At the park I planted the liatris, iris, and lily bulbs that I bought a few days before. I tried not to disturb the alliums that had set the whole thing in motion, and which had already rooted. I placed, and planted, the rest. (My tools were a newly-acquired Fiskars spade and trowel; my terrace-gardening is minimalist: just a fierce Japanese hori, essentially useless in the deep, wood chip mulch, here.) 

The white rose - with a clematis at it feet - and raspberries were planted in the sunniest corner (above) closest to the roaring, exhaust-smelly Fort Hamilton Parkway. Lilies, liatris, alliums, fescues were hidden here, too. I intended planting icy-yellow sunflowers once our last frost-date was a memory (anyone need fancy sunflower seeds)? 

I was done just after 5pm. Tired and sore but pleased. I could see it all in my late May mind's eye. Now the space had shape, albeit incognito until warmer weather. An ideal time to plant, and a solid, essential day of rain to follow.

The next day, around Thursday, noon, I walked by to see how it was all doing in the promised rain. 

I noticed some black trash bags on the sidewalk. Then I saw an unusually deep depression where some of the liatris bulbs had been planted. Something was missing.

I walked quickly into the space and saw at once that Hannah's rose was gone. So were the raspberry canes. The clematis, the astilbe. The 'Eden' rose donated by my friend Michele, from the Gowanus Nursery. All the Heuchera nurtured by Alyse.


But the #18thStreetPollinators sign was still there. 

I felt hollow. I looked at the row of houses facing the park. What had they seen?

At home I refunded the three kind people who had donated money (the Donate button had only gone live the day before). 

The next day I wrote to the plant donors. It was the only time I cried. And since then I have tried not to think about it at all. 

So what happened? 

Either: Someone had been watching. And moved in immediately. Or: The NYC Parks Department came by - either scheduled or due to a complaint -  and the workers removed every well-considered plant. This is the most likely scenario. (Except...the bulbs?)

I knew I was guerilla gardening, and I knew it was a risk. That was why I had the sign made. So anyone could go online with the hashtag to find out more. Fingers crossed. Stupid fingers.

So what now? 

It's simple. I quit. Whoever did it, whether through the vandalism of indifference, or through malice, or greed, won.  

Trying to define what flattened me, it is a combination of the destroyed potential, and quite simply, the plants. Just ripped out. I am at a loss.

I know why I did this: to make a beautiful space in a barren piece of land - a wasted, precious park. And, as Russia was invading Ukraine, this seemed a positive thing and a way to channel my own sense of helplessness. But I feel very stupid, and so very bad for the givers of plants. 

As an epitaph, here is what was planted. Possibly some of the bulbs made it.

 Gowanus Nursery:

1 'Eden' rose
2 Hypericum (St. John's-wort)
4 asters
6 fescues (still there, in disguise)
2 yellowroot (these were actually still there, invisible?)

Neighbor Alyse:

Lots of Heuchera
3 Phlox (woodland, I think)
2 hardy geraniums
1 mountain mint
1 sedum-ish perennial


About 14 New York ferns 
2 Christmas ferns
6 Japanese anemones
8-ish Astilbe
3 mystery plants just beginning to produce bright pink shoots
1 rambling white rose
1 clematis
10-ish raspberries 


8 Lilium henryi
30 Alliums
40 Dutch Iris
60 Liatris 

Thank you. And I am sorry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022


Park B255O has a name. 

The #18thStreetPollinators sign I ordered arrived from Etsy and was planted with the first plants on Friday, March 11th. It provides a succinct explanation for curious onlookers. The goal of the garden? To transform neglected park into a calm botanical oasis for humans and a feeding-stop for New York City pollinators.

If you would like to make a contribution there is a Donate button in the left side bar. 

I was hoping to have an 18thStreetPollinators Instagram account established quickly for passersby wanting to find out more, but a vexing glitch at Instagram's end has stalled it, for now. Very frustrating (because of the time it wasted). Hence the update, here.

I spent two hours planting, but only after spending around 45 minutes shifting massive layers of large-chip mulch to reach the soil. I imagine it was dumped so thickly to suppress weeds. I do remember a very lush patch of chickweed here, last spring. There was also evidence of mallow (long, living tap roots) and dock. The only living things under the trees. Also plenty of earthworms! Which will help with drainage.

My first stop was plant-collection: They may not look impressive right now but it's still pre-spring and this collection is dormant. Gowanus Nursery's Michele Palladino kindly donated plants she had to remove from one of the gardens she tends. An Eden rose, Hypericum, fescues, and asters. Alyse, an Instagram friend, donated lots of Heuchera, as well as phlox, geraniums, mountain mint and a hyssop. I am so grateful.

The NYC Parks sign at least designates this a city park, but there has been no response yet to my emails asking about official stewardship. 

While I worked, four people arrived to sit on the benches. One threw my work bag off before settling down. They were three adults who were developmentally impaired, and their minder, who apologized about the bag, and promptly fell asleep (he snored). They just sat, not able to engage, apparently, and made noises from time to time while I dug. I hoped my activity was at least more interesting than what must be their usual sitting-session.

Michele also gave me two yellow root plants - Xanthoriza simplicissima. I had never seen it before and it solved a forgotten plant ID question for me. It makes fascinating sprays of burgundy flowers, which I have seen in the woodlands in Central Park.

I concentrated on one long bed, planting the asters near some of the allium bulbs I buried a few weeks ago, along with the fescues, the rambling rose, mountain mint and a stray Echinacea. Because they are more or less invisible to anyone who is not a gardener I do worry about stomping, but also feel that they are less attractive to plant thieves than something that looks perfect. The faster I can get plants in, the more established the park may look and the more the threat-level drops. 

Three neighborhood friends are interested in helping out and I think this is the germ on an idea: Walk-by gardening. Dead-heading, weeding, spontaneous, co-operative, decentralized, and intuitive. 

I'll mention again what the NYC Parks and Recreation Department receives in funding: Less than 1% of New York City's annual budget. Most parks and gardens languish for lack of maintenance. It's the ongoing care that sees the least investment. 


Plant walk and picnic
18 March 2022

Saturday, March 12, 2022

It's lemon season!

It's that time, again: Meyer lemon season (indoors, and on the West Coast) coinciding with juniper pollen season. The juniper is foraged, and it is Juniperus virginiana, known commonly - and confusingly - as eastern red cedar. A cedar it ain't.

The pictured ferment is an outtake from my recent citrus piece for Gardenista (So You Grew a Lemon: Now What?). I have so many ways to use these precious indoor-grown lemons (or limes or makruts) that I ran out of space. And ferments take space to explain. So simple to make, so lengthy to write a How To. The trick is just to start. And then unfamiliarity gives way to wonder.

For this ferment I picked a handful of pollen-laden juniper (the needles and pollen are very aromatic), scrubbed 5 Meyer lemons and sliced them, popped those into a large, 6-cup Mason jar, added 2 cups of sugar and topped with water. Shook it all up to dissolve the sugar, then loosened the lid. After that it's a daily stir, to introduce even more air. After a few days it begins to fizz. That's the fermentation. I leave it another day or two and then strain, bottle, and keep in the fridge. It is divine in drinks - alcoholic or non - and requires dilution. I use maybe an ounce (about 2 tablespoons) at a time. 

It also works very well as an addition to a pan sauce (this is a very pan-saucy house). If I've seared-then-braised whole duck legs, for instance, a quarter cup poured into the pan halfway through makes them syrupy and delicious, with the slight bitterness and resin of the zest and juniper keeping things from being cloying.

But read the story. Lots more ideas, there. (If I had to pick just one, it would be the yuja-cha.)


Spring Walks and Picnics

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Pine Cones for Jam - A Walk in the Dunes

Pinesploration and #cookforukraine
Fort Tilden
19 March 2022
12pm - 2.30pm

Join me to celebrate the end of winter. We are exploring the early-early spring landscape of the dunes and backroads of this former nuclear missile site (yes, very on-topic) to meet the young pine cones appearing on Japanese black pine and native pitch pine. We will learn how to use them and our forage picnic will feature pine cone jam and syrup.

We will also discover the earliest mugwort leaves, as well as fragrant juniper, and the disguised branches of overwintering edibles like bayberry, beach plum, autumn olive, rose and...well, a lot more
. Maybe even some Nanking cherry blossom. There is an escaped population, here.

Our meet-up spot is at the Rockaway Artist Alliance Studio 6 & 7 Galleries at Fort Tilden. That's a 5 - 10 minute walk from the Q35 bus stop at Marine Pkwy/Rockaway Point Blvd VI. (If you look at  Google maps you'll see the stop at the end of the Marine Parkway Bridge.) You can catch the bus from above the 2/5 Brooklyn College Flatbush Avenue subway stop.

Note: Non-permitted cars may not park at Fort Tilden after March 15th (you can chance it, but...). So if you are driving, apply now for a fishing permit for Jamaica Bay that allows parking here for fisherpersons. The (highly coveted) annual permit is $55 and once it is bought online you go in person to the Ryan Visitor Center at Floyd Bennett Field to pick up the decal for your car (you have until April 30th to purchase these, via the Gateway National Recreation Area.)

All tickets sales will be donated to UNICEF UK's Cook for Ukraine Fundraiser.