Flooded with sunlight, Battery Park City’s Liberty Community Garden, just south of Albany Street at the edge of Route 9A, is a mosaic of color and homey touches. There are currently 38 plots with around 60 gardeners (the larger plots are shared). One person has erected a trellis with a wooden sign that reads, “Welcome to my garden.” Several plots have birdbaths and decorative stones and bricks demarcate the flower and vegetable patches in others.
It has been just a little over a year since the garden was moved to its present location from a space near the intersection of Rector Place and West Street. West Thames Park and its playground now occupy the garden’s former space.
Liberty Community Garden has a history as rich as the compost that nourishes its organically tended plants.
“The gardens were started in the1980s, as a way to provide [Battery Park City] residents with a chance to ‘get their hands dirty’ and commune with nature,” said Michael McCormack, one of the garden’s five directors and an attorney by profession. “We are lucky to benefit from the support of, and horticultural guidance of the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy.”
Luck was not always on the side of the gardeners, however. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the garden, which was then south of its present site, was knee-deep in debris. A newspaper account of that time quoted McCormack as saying, “I came out to look at my garden and everything was coated with three to four inches of gray dust.”
The plots closest to the World Trade Center were completely destroyed. A more southerly section was salvaged. Gardeners from the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy removed ash from the plants by hand.
Compost was needed but composting supplies had been decimated. In a gesture that is still remembered by the Battery Park City gardeners with great emotion, gardeners from Seattle, Wash. made compost from a million flowers that had been left at a vigil for those who died on 9/11 and transported the compost to Battery Park City. In September 2002, the Liberty Community Garden was rededicated with two Seattle City Council members in attendance along with gardeners from both cities.
Several times thereafter, the gardeners had to move. “Our former location was taken over for the ‘temporary’ Rector Place bridge,” McCormack recalled. (That bridge is still there, well past the time when it was slated to come down.) Fortunately, the Board of Managers of 200 Rector Place offered the gardeners the use of some land next to their building. Then, in October 2009, the gardeners had to pack up their plants and move them again to make way for the playground.
The New York State Department of Transportation held the plants over the winter until they could be moved again to their current home.
“The new gardens are wonderful,” said McCormack. “The sunlight is better, the soil is perfect, and the pathways are lined with stone chips, which have proven better at weed control than woodchips, and are easier on the knees. More sun means a much greater variety of plants can be grown, and many gardeners have increased the number and variety of vegetables they grow…A wider variety of flowers can be grown as well. The new gardens are more visible to visitors and the community, and it is rare that passer-bys don’t stop and chat with gardeners.”
The community within the garden has also flourished. Last summer, Miriam Kimmelman, one of the directors of the garden, was quite ill. “Alison [Simko] quietly put out the word,” Kimmelman recalled. “My plot was regularly watered, weeded and even enhanced with some new plantings. I didn’t get over to look at the plot until October, when I could walk that far.”
One of Kimmelman’s friends from the garden even planted tulip bulbs and crocuses to surprise her in the spring.
McCormack said that once the “temporary” bridge at Rector Place comes down, there would be another 20 plots. That isn’t likely to happen any time soon, but in the meantime, for various reasons, there is some turnover.
Read more from Downtown Express.