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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Art and the Community Garden

Decorative Iron Gate at the El Sol Brilliante in New York

If you visit a community garden in the winter it can look quite barren - a winter landscape. It does make me think about how art in the garden can bring beauty and winter interest to a community garden.

Art in and about community gardens can take many forms. Sculpture, murals, art from found objects, decorative fencing and structures are just some of the types of art found in community gardens.

Garden art is often ephemeral. Artist Noah Baen created such a piece many years ago, a Bulldozer fashioned from mugwort stems. Sorry I don't have a picture. Noah has also created a number of murals in community gardens.

Garden art can be moveable. Artist Tattfoo Tan creates moveable gardens, gardens on anything with wheels like a shopping cart or skateboard and a garden classroom on a bicycle. He also creates other garden based art.

Garden art projects can be everything from a medicinal herb garden, to guerilla garden seed packets, to a community garden / herb sanctuary in Charlotte, North Carolina with ceramic bird houses by artist Joan Bankemper .

In North Philadelphia artist Lily Yeh created the Village of Art and Humanities, 12 vacant lots that were transformed by art including many mosaic murals, benches, pathways and other structures.

Mural in Aspen Farms in Philadelphia

Bottles and Pavers artistically arranged at Diaz y Flores Garden in New York

Ladybug Rainwater Harvesting Tanks at New Vision Garden in Brooklyn, NY

Fantastical Creature mural painting on Rainwater Harvesting Tank in
the PS 4 Paradise Garden in Brooklyn, NY

The Garden itself can be art when viewed from above

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Garden of Eden

Today, January 8th, is the 25th Anniversary of the demolition of the Garden of Eden. An urban garden or an eARThWORK as it is titled by Adam Purple, the creator of the Garden of Eden. While it wasn't technically a community garden this anniversary is significant to me for several reasons. When I was beginning my career in community gardening I lived close to the Garden of Eden and visited a few times. It was impressive because it was created mostly by horse manure carried by Adam Purple on his bicycle from Central Park. It was a work in progress of concentric circles built from the center yin - yang planting. It was a wonderful place to see and be in.

There was a lot of controversy at the time as community gardens were looked at as a temporary land use and there was a demand for land for housing in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There were over 50 community gardens in the neighborhood AND hundreds of vacant lots in the community. Developers were proposing all kinds of housing projects. The local community board and neighborhood activists were trying to make sure that the current residents weren't gentrified out of their community. Signs appeared in building windows saying "This land is not for sale - It is the property of the people of the Lower East Side. A number of building were being renovated by sweat equity.

Housing was proposed for the Garden of Eden but the garden and Adam had many supporters and there were legal and political efforts to save the Garden of Eden. There were other vacant lots in the community where the housing could have been built. Architects and Urban planners proposed alternative designs for the housing development that would have preserved most of the garden but Adam Purple would not compromise. There was a pending lawsuit to preserve the garden but there was no injunction against bulldozing. In a move that would be repeated 15 years later the city demolished the garden before the lawsuit was resolved.

This was the beginning of the ongoing efforts by developers and politicians to pit gardens against housing. It is of course a false argument because in order to have a livable community it is important to have quality housing and accessible open space. This is a sad anniversary but an important one that taught us lessons that are still relevant today. For me it reaffirms why I do what I do. Community Gardens and open spaces are important and necessary parts of the city I call home and any city. But not everyone feels that way so we have to continue to support those whose hands create our community open spaces.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Winter Gardening

Here in the Northeastern United States winter gardening for most of us consists of reading, scheming and dreaming. That can mean reading a book about gardening, perusing catalogues, making a garden plan, ordering seeds or just sitting and drinking a cup of tea or coffee and staring at a snow covered garden and seeing a lush, fertile garden in your mind.

This is cyberspace after all so much of that stuff is done these days on computers and smart phones. I've spent some time over the past few days looking at websites to see what's out there to recommend. I searched "community garden(s) and "community gardening" and was happy to see this blog showing up in the 3rd or 4th page of community gardening results. By far the most viewed pages were the American Community Gardening Association website pages. It is the best place to start a search for information whether you are starting a community garden, looking for a garden near home or doing research about community gardens. It is the only website I have listed on this blog so far. The other website I highly recommend is City Farmer .This is their older site which has hundreds of articles between the years of 1994 and 2008. You can literally spend days looking through articles. They have a new site called City Farmer News with over 75 categories of information - everything from Africa to Zimbabwe. You can find excellent information on composting and all kinds of cool stuff. Today in one of those cool articles I discovered that January 8th, 2011 is the 25th anniversary of the destruction of The Garden of Edena seminal event in the history of New York City community gardening. An exhibit of photographs chronicling this garden or earthwork will be at the Fusion Arts Museum from Feb 2 to Feb 20.

If you have the inclination to look at community gardens you can find websites for gardens from New Orleans (inspiring), Edinburgh, (Scotland - always wanted to go there), Silicon Valley (called 'Sustainable Community Gardens' ) , Plattsburgh, NY (cold) or O'ahu (hot and real dirt gardening in the winter). A trip around the country and the world can be inspiring to the gardener frozen out of his or her garden.

There is so much more out there. A lot of it is repetitious but there is always something new to be discovered even to those that think they have seen it all. Many sites, like this blog invite comments and for those who like to be more interactive there are listservs and meetups to ask questions, give answers or opinions or just follow others conversations. The ACGA listserv is a good place to find interesting discussions and once you sign up you can search the archives. But that's another story for another post.