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Gardening Resilience

A pioneering community garden is taking root in Gowanus. Twenty years ago, GreenSpace on Fourth was a dream: A group of neighbors wanted to transform a parcel of city-owned land on Fourth Avenue between Sackett and Union into an oasis of urban resiliency. At last—with the support of the DEP, Community Board 6, GreenThumb, Park Slope Civic Council, Citizens Committee for NYC, and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy—they’ve cut through the red tape and broken ground. Last fall, BBG’s Brooklyn Urban Gardener (BUG) program was delighted to join this unprecedented volunteer effort.

“There’s so much all of us are learning by helping start a community garden from scratch,” remarked BUG student Fred Feibusch. With BUG’s help, garden organizers began the design and installation of two highly visible rain gardens—one sunny and one shady—featuring plants native to the greater New York City region and watered by runoff from a neighboring rooftop. On the agenda for the near future: raised perennial beds and container plantings, an expanded street tree care plan, community composting, and more extensive rainwater harvesting. But people as well as plants are crucial to the project’s success. Recently, GreenSpace has expanded its partnerships to include GrowNYC, Greenbelt Native Plant Nursery, local businesses, and a local middle school.

Judy Janda, one of several original founders of the project, is overjoyed by the recent progress. “The garden’s mission is educating people about the ecological value of native flora as well as storm-water infiltration,” she said. “Through signage and public events, we’ll let Brooklyn know that the more permeable surfaces the community can create, the less our city’s sewers will overflow during rainstorms. And for our neighborhood, that means less sewage entering the Gowanus Canal. On the aesthetic side, the completed rain gardens will be beautiful year-round.”

All of this work, organizers hope, will inspire others to recognize how beautiful sustainable gardening can be. “We are really on the cutting edge here,” said Fred, “but we’re showing the way for other gardens like it in the future.”

Learn more about the Brooklyn Urban Gardner program and about GreenSpace on Fourth. Want to learn more about rain gardens? Take the upcoming Rain Gardens workshop!

Claudia Navas is the project coordinator for the NYC Compost Project hosted by Brooklyn Botanic Garden. An experienced farmer, she feels most grounded and empowered with her hands in the soil.

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