A Garden Grows In Harlem

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Donald Isler
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A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Donald Isler » Sun Jun 03, 2012 9:57 pm

The New York Times
By COREY KILGANNON
Published: June 1, 2012

LI TINGBANG, a 78-year-old Chinese immigrant who grew up on a farm in Canton Province, now known as Guangdong, was always a restless type. So three years ago, bored with the dance and mah-jongg classes given in the senior residence where he lives in Harlem, he decided he needed a garden.

“Of course you can plant vegetables in a big city; why not?” Mr. Li said.

Officials at his residence scoffed at his request to tear up the lawn behind the building, so he began canvassing the neighborhood for some tillable soil. He found a neglected lot behind a nearby bus depot at the northern end of Second Avenue, a half-block from the Crack Is Wack Playground.

This triangular expanse on the edge of Harlem River Drive was choked with weeds and trash and populated by feral cats. Ownership and jurisdictional issues seemed irrelevant, so Mr. Li simply began clearing away the garbage and sifting the soil. He planted vegetable seeds from bargain packets from a local hardware store.

Today, Mr. Li’s off-the-grid Manhattan garden is a bewildering agrarian intrusion in the big city, its bounteous rows of beans, lettuce, melons and Chinese vegetables emerging mysteriously from the rubble, and inviting passers-by to reach over and make a quick salad. There are no protective fences. Rather, the garden is ringed by the trash and debris that once covered it.

“It used to be such a mess, the grass so high, people sleeping in the grass,” Mr. Li said in his garden on Thursday morning, tilling the soil with a short rake as traffic crawled by on the Drive — car radios blasting, horns honking, sirens blaring. Motorists occasionally do double-takes at the old man stooped over in this green blur on an otherwise gritty, neglected stretch near Exit 19.

Mr. Li is now in his third season working this plot, which he expands each year. Happiness can be a complicated thing in Manhattan, but Mr. Li has found his.

“American soil is so fertile,” he said. “Look how fertile this soil is. You just add water, and it grows.”

It certainly does. See his beans staked off to the side with poles and branches he had gathered nearby. There are rows of Chinese vegetables and plants used in Chinese medicine. Even goji, a notoriously difficult plant to cultivate here.

“Look, flowering Chinese cabbage,” he said, pointing. “You can stir-fry these vegetables. We Chinese love to eat this.”

He pointed out his cilantro, chives, romaine lettuce, garlic and pumpkin plants. And melons — Mr. Li says he winds up with hundreds of pounds of them by July.

Mr. Li, who speaks Cantonese, said through an interpreter that he had worked as an electrician hanging utility wires in China and immigrated to New York 14 years ago. He now lives on East 127th Street with his wife, Han Fenpan, 71.

As several scruffy men snoozed on park benches, the spry older man moved nimbly around his garden, energized. He uses rakes and shovels that he stashes under camouflage when he leaves.

Around the garden, he has half-buried plastic buckets to collect rainwater. He brings used detergent bottles with holes poked in their tops to use as watering cans.

On the brick wall abutting the west side of the garden, there is a large billboard advertising iPads, and there are several large highway signs overhead. The garden soil is dark and rich-looking but hardly pristine. There are bits of trash and broken glass scattered throughout, but as Mr. Li said, the trash makes no difference to the plants.

“I’ve never used pesticides, don’t use chemical fertilizers,” he said. “No need. This way it’s organic, right?”

He can keep an eye on the garden from his apartment window. Yes, there has been some occasional produce pilfering and some trampled plants, but the garden has not been vandalized or looted. “I’m not going to worry about it,” he said. “I’m not doing this for any particular reason.”

Mr. Li arrives every morning and tills the land during the southbound rush, and returns every afternoon, when the traffic has shifted to the northbound lanes and the sun is in the western sky.

Amid his planted rows, the spot seems like a collision of the urban and the rural, with seasonal rhythms of nature rubbing up against those of the city. But Mr. Li scoffs at highfalutin analogies with a simplicity reminiscent of Chance, the simple urban gardener in the movie “Being There.”

“It’s fun,” he said, and returned to tilling the Manhattan soil
Donald Isler

Agnes Selby
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Agnes Selby » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:22 am

What a lovely story, Donald. It made me feel happy reading it.

Regards,
Agnes.

lennygoran
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:42 am

Agnes Selby wrote:What a lovely story, Donald. It made me feel happy reading it.

Regards,
Agnes.
Agnes yeah but does the garden have any azaleas or roses! Regards, Len [fleeing]

John F
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by John F » Mon Jun 04, 2012 5:03 am

Len, does your garden have anything you can eat? Maybe some nice hemlock? :mrgreen:
John Francis

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jun 04, 2012 7:04 am

John F wrote:Len, does your garden have anything you can eat? Maybe some nice hemlock? :mrgreen:
Nope, nothing we can eat--only things the deer would love to eat. :) On the hemlock front we lost one our 2 hemlocks this year--a large shrub we love but now we're down to just one. Regards, Len :(

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Cosima___J » Mon Jun 04, 2012 11:09 am

I thoroughly enjoyed reading that article!!! My hat is off to the old gentleman who decided to do something he loved, no matter that he lived in a rather inconvenient location for pursuing his dream. Although I only plant bushes, trees and flowers rather than produce, I know the satisfaction of watching what I have worked hard to plant grow big and beautiful. It's amazing what Mother Nature and I can do!

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:01 pm

lennygoran wrote:
John F wrote:Len, does your garden have anything you can eat? Maybe some nice hemlock? :mrgreen:
Nope, nothing we can eat--only things the deer would love to eat. :) On the hemlock front we lost one our 2 hemlocks this year--a large shrub we love but now we're down to just one. Regards, Len :(
I don't think that's the kind of hemlock John had in mind.

Image

It's nice to know that Manhattan soil is so fertile. Just think of what they could have done with the island if they hadn't ruined it with all those icky buildings. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

lennygoran
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:34 pm

[quote="jbuck919"

I don't think that's the kind of hemlock John had in mind.[/quote]

Thank you for the info, Mr. Socrates! Regards, Len :)

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Agnes Selby » Mon Jun 04, 2012 6:24 pm

lennygoran wrote:
Agnes Selby wrote:What a lovely story, Donald. It made me feel happy reading it.

Regards,
Agnes.
Agnes yeah but does the garden have any azaleas or roses! Regards, Len [fleeing]
As a matter of fact, our azaleas are blooming and enjoying Sydney's morning sunshine.
Still, what a lovely story. I hope he enjoys his produce.

lennygoran
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Tue Jun 05, 2012 5:11 am

Agnes Selby wrote:
As a matter of fact, our azaleas are blooming and enjoying Sydney's morning sunshine.
Still, what a lovely story. I hope he enjoys his produce.
Our season for azaleas and rhodos is ending but it was a very successful one--I think they all liked the milder winter--now the name of the game is roses! Also thriving is the poison ivy. Regards, Len :(

Agnes Selby
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Agnes Selby » Tue Jun 05, 2012 6:40 pm

As we are now in winter, the roses will need prooning at the end of
July. And feeding! The strange thing is that the azaleas just keep
flowering because we face North (your South) and they are
mistaking the seasons.

Regards,
Agnes.

lennygoran
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Wed Jun 06, 2012 4:57 am

Agnes Selby wrote:As we are now in winter, the roses will need prooning at the end of
July. And feeding!
Agnes here are some things in our garden that need if not pruning at least hiding--the azalea next to them isn't hiding them at all--we'll look into this ASAP! Regards, Len :)

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Agnes Selby » Wed Jun 06, 2012 6:48 pm

Ha, Ha! Lenny! That is not a "pretty" sight. You need a fast growing
shrub, a very fast growing shrub, indeed, to cover it or paint
it green. Or better still, paint flowers all over it.

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:37 am

Agnes Selby wrote:Ha, Ha! Lenny! That is not a "pretty" sight. You need a fast growing
shrub, a very fast growing shrub, indeed, to cover it or paint
it green. Or better still, paint flowers all over it.
Agnes in general you're not allowed to paint them--dark colors would be the worst:

"All too often propane customers take it upon themselves to paint their tank a color that complements the colors of their home or landscaping. This presents a safety problem as well as a serviceability problem if the tank color is dark or non-reflective. Dark colors absorb heat while lighter colors reflect it. Have you ever worn a dark colored shirt on a sunny day? A dark shirt on a sunny day will give you a lot more warmth than a white shirt will. The principle is the same with LP Gas tanks as the last thing any propane tank needs is to absorb heat. Perhaps a better example is walking barefoot on the concrete sidewalk and stepping onto the asphalt street on a hot sunny day. Concrete sidewalks are fairly light in color (heat reflective) while asphalt streets and roads ar dark in color (heat absorbent). The sidewalk is much more bearable to walk on while the asphalt road can be quite painful. Propane tanks need to reflect heat, not absorb it. "

We're going to go with some board-on-board fencing around them.

http://www.google.com/search?q=board+on ... 0gGl4t3KDQ

Regards, Len

Dennis Spath
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Dennis Spath » Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:23 pm

There are thousands of urban gardens in Chicago, Millwaukee, Detroit and other cities in the U.S., modeled after those in Toronto Canada, and some are quite amazing in the area of food production....all part of the local food movement being encouraged by Mrs. Obama and others. This interest in eating fresh veggies has a lot of personal appeal to me since I helped my Dad put a "Victory Garden" in our back yard in 1942, and as a homeowner grew a lot of my own veggies....particularly Tomatoes and Green Peppers.
It's good to be back among friends from the past.

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by living_stradivarius » Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:35 pm

Then there are the gardens of another variety:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/19/garde ... owers.html
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Dennis Spath
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Dennis Spath » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:36 am

Having spent most of my life in Chicago I was particularly interested in news about Chicago Rooftop Gardens, and found this very interesting Blog with loads of very interesting and informative links:

http://greenroofgrowers.blogspot.com/20 ... e-sip.html

FYI "SIP's" are Self Irrigating Planters, which can produce lots of produce on a patio space or rooftop. I learned about this from a book by a former Basketball Pro, Will Allen, titled "The Good Food Revolution"....about his work in Chicago and Milwaukee urban settings. Check it out!
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lennygoran
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jun 09, 2012 7:32 am

Dennis Spath wrote:Rooftop Gardens,
On our last stay in Manhattan before the Billy Budd opera we stayed at the Park Central Hotel almost opposite to Carnegie Hall and were up on a high floor--from our windows you could look down Broadway and many roof top garden spaces could be seen--don't know how many were growing veggies? Regards, Len

Dennis Spath
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Dennis Spath » Sat Jun 09, 2012 2:44 pm

The initial purpose for rooftop gardens on Commercial and Public Buildings was to reduce air conditioning costs. PBS has a program about inner city gardening, and showed the rooftop garden maintained by a NYC Restaurant for producing their own super-fresh salad ingredients....grown hydroponically in "towers". Here's a ten minute overview of what's happening in NYC:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2207227402
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 09, 2012 3:06 pm

lennygoran wrote:
Dennis Spath wrote:Rooftop Gardens,
On our last stay in Manhattan before the Billy Budd opera we stayed at the Park Central Hotel almost opposite to Carnegie Hall and were up on a high floor--from our windows you could look down Broadway and many roof top garden spaces could be seen--don't know how many were growing veggies? Regards, Len
Vegetables are being increasingly cultivated locally nationwide, in many states and congressional districts, but the White House garden notwithstanding, more and more of them are being sent directly to Washington.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jun 09, 2012 8:54 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
lennygoran wrote:
Dennis Spath wrote:Rooftop Gardens,
On our last stay in Manhattan before the Billy Budd opera we stayed at the Park Central Hotel almost opposite to Carnegie Hall and were up on a high floor--from our windows you could look down Broadway and many roof top garden spaces could be seen--don't know how many were growing veggies? Regards, Len
Vegetables are being increasingly cultivated locally nationwide, in many states and congressional districts, but the White House garden notwithstanding, more and more of them are being sent directly to Washington.
Forget the veggies-where did the obama's stand on getting rid of the azaleas
At the national arboretum-btw the bronx botanical gdns just had a
Massive azalea restoration!

And where do the obamas stand on roses!

Len
Image

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by John F » Sun Jun 10, 2012 5:45 am

I hear tell their house has a rose garden.
John Francis

Dennis Spath
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Dennis Spath » Sun Jun 10, 2012 1:25 pm

What kind of flowers are included in your diet Len?
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jun 11, 2012 7:42 am

Dennis Spath wrote:What kind of flowers are included in your diet Len?
Dennis none but I wouldn't mind eating at a space we saw yesterday at one of the private Connecticut gardens we visited via the Garden Conservancy Open Days program in Ridgefield Ct.

Regards, Len

Image

Image

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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by Dennis Spath » Mon Jun 11, 2012 11:34 am

Thanks for that post Len....what a delightful space! Is that a "Fireplace" in the first picture?
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Re: A Garden Grows In Harlem

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jun 11, 2012 11:52 am

Dennis Spath wrote:Thanks for that post Len....what a delightful space! Is that a "Fireplace" in the first picture?
Dennis yes and behind the fireplace a large fancy grill and a full stool type bar and sink--here are some more views:

Image

Image

Regards, Len

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