By Carl Blumenthal
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — Community gardeners are like stay-at-home moms and dads. They grow things more out of love than because their work is valued in the marketplace.
With its annual “Making Brooklyn Bloom” conference, the 102-year-old Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) has been parenting this growth movement for 31 years.
On Satuday, March 10, GreenBridge, BBG’s community horticulture program, with the help of 75 volunteers and 30 exhibitors, welcomed more than 1,000 gardeners to its prematurely blooming grounds for 14 free workshops on gardening high (on rooftops), low (lasagna-style), and in between (on window sills).
Participants learned how to keep bees, grow fish in tanks, and harvest rainwater in barrels. Also complements of GreenBridge, Urban Oasis, the horticulture therapy program at Kingsborough Psychiatric Center, gave away basil and collard sprouts for transplanting.
This year’s theme, “Think Global, Grow Local,” referred to the effects of climate change on the timing of life cycles in the vegetable kingdom, or as keynote speaker Dr. Sandra Henderson announced, “Plants are the photosynthesizing canaries [in the coal mine].”
Robin Simmen, GreenBridge’s director, explained the purpose of “Making Brooklyn Bloom”: “We set the table and invite the community to share their experiences, inspire each other, and find the resources they need.” In other words, it’s a process of “cross-fertilization,” and through GreenBridge, BBG supports gardeners’ projects both in and off the field.
One of those gardeners was Leslie Gulick of Lefferts Manor. She was seeking help to turn a patch of concrete owned by the MTA into something green, such as ivy on a trellis or flowers in planters. At her disposal on this day were such movers and shakers as Brooklyn Community Foundation, Citizen’s Committee for NYC, Green Thumb (part of the Parks Department), and 596 Acres, a group of volunteers who estimate there are 596 acres of unused city-owned land.
Raphiel Santiago, who had been gardening on the Lower East Side for years, recently moved to Crown Heights. He noted that “Loisaida” lacks the greening focal point represented by BBG. He was on his way to the “Go Fish ... Grow Veggies: Small-Scale Aquaponics” workshop run by the Brooklyn Rescue Mission, a food pantry with its own greenhouse.
Linda Casey is a member of the Heart-to-Heart Community Garden in Bedford-Stuyvesant. She described the “crazy stuff” her neighbors found buried in the lot they cleaned up, a rite of passage every greening group goes through. As an employee of Cornell Cooperative Extension, she also distributed information on how to keep soils healthy. And in a nearby booth, Brooklyn College’s Environmental Sciences Anayltical Center was ready to test those soils for contaminants.
Compost is hot stuff (if you’ve ever stuck your hand in a big, rotting pile). Compost for Brooklyn, Earth Matter, NYC Leaves Project Leaf Drop, and NYC Compost Project in Brooklyn were on the case for reusing food waste, lawn clippings, dead leaves, etc. to enrich soil.
For those who haven’t noticed, the scrappy ailanthus, oddly nicknamed the “tree of heaven,” is on longer the only “tree that grows in Brooklyn.” With 563,000 street trees of numerous varieties planted, MillionTreesNYC is well on its way to the 2017 goal. GreenBridge and Trees New York were also on hand to teach Brooklynites how to keep those carbon dioxide-eating machines well oiled.