The following urban oasis comes by way of Carey at Serving Gaia who is beginning a weekend tour of the big city. We'll be visiting a few boroughs of the Big Apple. I'm going to apologize right up front, because all of the photographs were dropped to the end of the email that brought this lovely post to me, so I'm guessing on many of them. I think I got the really important ones correct :-)
We live in a 60 unit, co-operative apartment building built in the 1930's. We
are located in the Borough of Queens, NY and while is not as congested as
Manhattan, it is more or less a concrete jungle of roads, sidewalks, storefronts
and apartment buildings. We are very fortunate however that our neighborhood
borders on a very affluent part of Queens in which hundred year old trees still
flourish. Our neighborhood is blessed with tree-lined streets for the most
part. When we bought our place 4 years ago, the building had a professional
landscape service, but to my absolute delight, the Co-op Board gave me their
blessing to plant some Hostas which I'd saved from the garden I'd left behind.
Little by little, the soothing lush green of the Hostas paved the way for adding
Lillies, which in turn cleared a path to my adding one red rose bush. I
religiously buried all our kitchen scraps in the soil to feed the earthworms,
added bags of topsoil and encouraged life to return to the hardened, depleted
earth. By the 2nd year the Board had made me a committee and the four of us
convinced the Board that we could create a lovelier garden and save them money
($3,000 a year!) if they'd let us take over all the garden work. We've never
looked back and it has been an amazing lesson in community building to create a
garden of beauty that is "shared." As a group we were able to courageously
remove (with respect) enormous 6 ft x 5 ft. diameter Yew hedges which were
becoming solid table-like masses in the sunniest places. There were certainly
some treasures already present which have been delights to assist in reclaim
their sovereignty - the hemlocks which guard the front corners of the building,
the weeping cherry front and center, our Gentle and magnificent Elm, a White
Pine, Forsythia and giant Rhododendrons. Together, the gardening committee made
tough decisions about cutting back some of the established shrub plants and
re-arranging others. We then worked our muscles digging up and re-locating
enormous and gorgeous boulders to provide stability to the budding garden
spaces. Our committee consists of one young married couple, my 11 year old
son, and myself and each has their own unique gifts to add. In addition, my
Husband also helps and one gentleman from the building often assists in the
forsythia pruning by being my "eyes" and because I honestly have not yet
mastered the fine art of pruning. The youngest children in our building have
added their own sunniness and cheer by walking the paths, nibbling mint and
showing their friends the herbs they know and love. Recently, I discovered the
joy and satisfaction to midwife to others garden dreams by adding plants which
others in the building have requested, finding how to weave them into the
tapestry of our gardens and to my delight and surprise realized the garden was
all the better for including everyone's ideas and wishes. The beauty lies in
the magic of this unlikely garden alchemy.
On to the tour!
This is the front entrance. That "Beanstalk" is a Dahlia but there isn't enough
sun here so it may not bloom the other beanstalk is the giant Oriental lily.
The rose, which is a peach is flanked by two small lavender plants..see below
for a little close-up.
The Hosta shown is one of the three Grandmothers of the garden. Our Dragon stone which protects our building. (I believe he doesn't mind that we peeked into his lair.)
A close-up of the ferns and Sweet Woodruff which grow at the feet of two of our
Grandmother Hostas. There is also some wild ginger which you can just make out
on the far left.
The third Grandmother Hosta.
Birdy paradise with the lilies underneath and weeping cherry above.
This is the main bed which runs along the sunniest part of the front of the
building. This is home to most of my medicinals.
this little bed, which has only a few hours of direct sun each day can produce
herbs do quite well, except for the Yarrow which is just pleading with me for
more sunshine. Hidden in here are Plantain, Pineapple Sage (which you can see
just below the lilies) Anise Hyssop, Hyssop, and Skullcap.
Hidden amongst the roses are some transplanted chickweed which I finally found this spring after they had left my garden and taken up home on the neighboring property. Needless to say, Chickweed was completely under appreciated over there. Also hidden
beneath the roses are some cleavers. Here is the same bed a week later. These pictures were taken at the second rose
bloom of this year.
This is a view of the same bed, but from behind so you can see the newly added
Comfrey...I am certain I will need to move something because as we all know,
Comfrey will be Queen.
Heritage Rose, mmmmmmm. My treasure.
Another favorite Rose, Julia Child. Spicy rosy fragrance.
The complexly forthright, gentle and miraculously sleek and lovely Blue Vervian
This is how I compost here, using my Mother's method, by digging deep holes and
burying my kitchen scraps beneath 5 inches of soil. Works best and fastest if
they are frozen first. This way we don't attract rats. eek!
This view is looking at the right side of the front of the building. This side
is blessed by this enormous Elm tree which provides delicious shade, beauty and
homes for wildlife, but also makes the buildings desire for a uniform hedge
border difficult to meet.
The hedge (ha! I like to call it a hedgerow for fun
and I've snuck in some rosa Rugosa on the other side...) is more spindly than on
the other side of the building. We've worked into the front two shade beds this
year with Helleborus, Dicentra and Astilbe. More to come!
I love rocks with plants.
"defending and nurturing" this space, for it is a wild haven, rare and precious
in this land of manicured landscaping. It may not look like much, but it is
probably the garden I love the most. Here is where the fireflies start their
twinkly matchmaking at 8:09 on summer evenings. Here is where the crickets
serenade their future lovers and create what is for me the most welcoming,
lovely outside music ever. The Norway Maples surround and protect us
city-dwellers with their cooling, peaceful canopies, giving us a quiet respite
from the summer heats, and providing the squirrels with homes. The unexpected goes on back here and the people walking past, down the "alley", choose this way, I believe because they are replenished by it's peace, and "rightness."
View out to the street from feeder.
The moss which blankets the earth here is a little dried out at the moment. There is a little saucer water bath in the moss there beneath the feeder, but I didn't get it in the photo. The pigeons like to drink out of it, preen their feathers, and then they all lie there, resting on the soft moss for a period of time each day. Just resting. It's brought us to wonder, "Where do Pigeons ever get a fresh drink or a cool, green place to
(Ha! Here's a close-up of "Hippie!" Sometimes I wonder if they meant me? and is
it a good thing? I like to think so....:-))
management company that these leaves which fall from the trees are gold and that
we need them. "The leaves look so messy!" Everyone sees sense after a while.
:-) Our beloved Super and his wife cleared and collected them from the front of
the building for me and put them into bags so I could create this. My dream
for the entire back area is to bring it back to health and vitality. The soil
is very eroded from years of leaf blowers and rains, but the moss is doing her
best to protect the remaining soil which is nutrient stripped, compact and
root-bound. I hope to add soil and gradually lots of compost, but it is a huge
space which goes around the entire perimeter of our building. Baby steps and
patience are learned here.
Hidden tiny chimes hopefully send their delicate tinkling carries a gentle
reminder of the magic that exists to our neighbors.
and a light delicate fragrance. This happens to grow right out our bedroom
window, another protective plant friend right at the corner. (Rose is the State
flower of new York!)
While this may not be my dream garden with nothing but endless sky above roses,
lavender and other medicinal herbs, I am finding that each and every part of it
is something I treasure deeply. Not only by me but by the people who live here
and around us. People tell me they go out of their way just to walk by our
building. My heart just leaps when people say things like this. I've heard so
many heartfelt stories from people in the neighborhood about family gardens,
grandmothers, favorite uncles and their roses, and gardens in homes from
countries they've left to come here to America. The whole thing would seem so
unlikely - the very fact that in this manicured part of Queens, I am able to be
the keeper of a slightly rumpled herb and flower garden. Despite our very
urban, stressed and densely populated area, we've only had two instances of
theft/vandalism. Our building is situated right off of Queens Boulevard, which
is a four lane race track that runs right through the heart of Queens. But
here, just a building away, we have raccoons, opossum, a family each of black
and grey squirrels (sharing the feeder at that!), Blackbirds, Finch, families of
Mourning Doves, Sparrows, Cardinals and Nuthatch! These friends must migrate
over here from our neighboring Forest Park. The crickets and fireflies have
tripled since we've begun this gardening journey 4 years ago. I like to
believe that our gardening and wilding efforts are showing these other sons and
daughters of Gaia that we humans can share, and that we do care.
Thank you for walking around our garden with me~