Brooklyn’s Beloved Window Boxes - Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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Brooklyn’s Beloved Window Boxes

This year’s Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest was all about the small but mighty window box. Across the borough, gardeners enthusiastically embraced a restructuring of the contest and managed to turn a social distancing strategy into a way to connect with neighbors.

The Garden was unable hold in-person judging or include all of the usual categories this year due to the pandemic, but instead devoted the contest to recognizing Brooklyn’s wonderful window boxes. Entrants photographed and wrote about their own work for consideration.

Many gardeners tried their hand at window box gardening for the first time, others brought it to the next level with resourceful and sustainable practices. Plantings were daring, and photos were top-notch, but perhaps the most exciting part of this year’s contest was all the wonderful stories behind the plantings.

In Williamsburg, for instance, Southside Homeowners Association block captain Pricilla Ghaznavi submitted a series of portraits of her neighbors with their plantings, like the one of Mallorie Ekstrom and Andy Orge below. “Mallorie was the inspiration to all of us in the community to enter this contest!” Ghaznavi wrote.

Andy Orge and Mallorie Ekstrom of Southside Homeowners Association with their window box creation. Photo by Pricilla Ghaznavi.

And in Crown Heights, neighbors on Lincoln Place between New York and Nostrand Avenues joined forces to nominate the Most Individual Window Boxes of any Block category—64 all together!—all of which contained a diverse palette of lovely plants. The block association held workshops and created signage to educate neighbors about how to propagate and share plants. Resident propagation instructor Perri Edwards dubbed the block “Lincoln Place Plant University.”

Photo courtesy of Preserving Lincoln’s Abundant Natural Treasures (P.L.A.N.T.s).
Photo courtesy of Preserving Lincoln’s Abundant Natural Treasures (P.L.A.N.T.s).

In Bushwick, Starr Street between Irving and Wyckoff Avenues made its contest debut with striking photos showing resourceful use of perennials and upcycled material and a wonderful story of coming together as a community of gardeners.

“At the start of the lockdown, I spent any extra time I had working on a garden in the backyard to get out of the apartment. This is when I met my former neighbor, Melynda. Soon Melynda’s own garden had spread out onto the sidewalk and she began to spend all of her free time collecting litter on the entire block and revamping every tree bed,” wrote block captain Brittany Jones.

One of the upcycled containers used on Starr Street. Photo courtesy of Seed Streets Brooklyn.

“More neighbors started noticing the flowers and some began to help. They brought more plants and more pots and more soil. Some would water the plants while some would collect old wood to build planters. The auto repair garage would lend its hose to water plants. I’ve never seen so many people share and create such a magical space. By the end of the summer, the entire block was filled with plants.”

By far, the most competitive category was Best Window Box by a Senior, with about two dozen nominations excellent enough to advance to the final round. Two gardeners were standouts.

Allen Judge, a septuagenarian in Bedford-Stuyvesant, created window boxes to keep the memories of his brother and sister—both green thumbs—alive. Fellow septuagenarian Colleen Cox and her mother, Josephine Samms, aged 104, continues to inspire the three more generations of their family who now garden on their block in Crown Heights.

One of Allen Judge’s lovely tributes. Photo courtesy of Preserving Lincoln’s Abundant Natural Treasures (P.L.A.N.T.s).
A beautiful entry by Colleen Cox and her mother, Josephine Samms. Photo courtesy of Sullivan Ludlam Stoddard Neighborhood Association.

As the second pandemic summer comes to an end, it has been inspiring to see how resilient the sense of community and stewardship has been across Brooklyn’s green blocks.

As Nichola Cox, of the Sullivan Ludlam Stoddard Neighborhood Association in Crown Heights wrote, “The contest is especially important after the year we’ve experienced. We want to celebrate the beauty of life and nature, using the window box competition as an excuse to get outside and channel our creative energy.”

Nina Browne, a former Brooklyn community gardener, is community field manager at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and has been co-facilitator of the Brooklyn Urban Gardener volunteer training program since 2011.

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Image, top of page: Photos courtesy of Preserving Lincoln’s Abundant Natural Treasures (P.L.A.N.T.s).