December 7, 2011 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
On a stroll through New York City’s Alphabet City recently, I discovered some wonderful obscure gardens–that is, I almost walked by before noticing them. Coined Alphabet City because it encompasses the areas between Avenues A through D, the neighborhood is also known as “Loisaida” (a play on Lower Eastsider) as it’s situated between the East Village and Lower East Side. When I was an art student living in the area a number of years ago, it was not a place to take a leisurely stroll, at least not alone. But as life and neighborhoods change, this one has evolved quite a bit since I lived nearby. The rents have risen, but so have the number of wonderful community gardens. Today I will focus on one of the three gardens I visited that day, the 6BC Botanical Garden.
“Immigrants” Join Native Plants
Like the community to which it belongs, many of this garden’s plants arrived as immigrants, taking their place among the native plants and now living harmoniously together. The garden was created from a rubble-strewn empty lot by neighborhood volunteers in the early 1980s. After a period in which the garden’s survival, like that of other New York community gardens, was threatened by the city’s exploding development, the land was permanently set aside for public use as part of the New York City Parks system’s Green Thumb program.
A Learning and Working Garden
6BC is both a botanical garden and a community garden. It’s a place where visitors can learn not just about plants but also about solar power and composting through projects that demonstrate how environmental concerns can be integrated into city living. It’s also a working community garden, but whenever the iron gates are open, the public is invited to stroll the garden’s winding paths to enjoy the hundreds of plants, gaze into the ponds and pools, sit under the Pagoda– an Asian inspired gazebo that in summer is covered in vines–or rest on one of the many benches.
Arbors, Ponds, and a Pagoda
A grape arbor supports it the garden’s solar panels while also providing seating, shelter, and occasionally a few grapes. While I was there, a few people were enjoying soft conversation together and one was stretched out on one of the benches under the vines. There is also an herb garden, a shade garden, and a rock garden with native plants tucked between the stones. Mosquito-eating fish like gold and orange koi swim in the fish pond and near the pagoda another small pond is the centerpiece of a Japanese mini-garden.
Volunteers meet at the library and tool shed where one can view the entire garden from the structure’s balcony. In two quiet corners of the garden, there are picnic tables where one can dine al fresco then leave a gift to the garden by depositing leftover food scraps into the compost heap on the way out.
6BC Botanical Garden
6th Street between Avenues A and B (East Village)
New York City
All photos: Robin Plaskoff Horton