Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Slash and Burn “Campaign for the 21st Century”

Sign the Petition to Restore Science to Brooklyn Botanic Garden! (Added 2013-09-16)

2013-08-29: Added more links. I will continue to do so as this story begins to get more exposure.
2013-08-24: Expanded analysis. Added more external links to relevant sections of BBG’s Web site.
2013-08-23 18:00: Added response from BBG.


I was alarmed to read the following on Twitter yesterday [2013-08-21]:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden suspends science program and lays off botany staff. Express concerns to president Scot Medbury
New York Flora Association, 2013-08-22, ~06:00 EDT

My Letter

For over a century, since its founding, science has been a foundation of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is a primary reason why I have supported them. This morning [2013-08-23] I wrote the following email to Scot Medbury, President, Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG), and the Director of Major Gifts at BBG’s Development Department:

Subject: The end of BBG’s Scientific Mission?

I’m writing to express my concern at what I’m hearing about the elimination of all remaining science staff at BBG.

I would like a statement of what was done, and why, and what BBG’s future plans are for its scientific mission.

BBG’s scientific mission has been a foundation for over a century. It is a primary reason why I have supported BBG. Not just financially, but through social media: my blog, Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook. I even helped organize a meetup of Brooklyn Bloggers at BBG a few years ago.

This latest – and apparently final – blow to science at BBG makes me question my support.

You can respond by email or phone. My cell number is XXXX.

Thanks in advance for your attention to this.

BBG’s response

Not long after, I received the following response from Kathryn Glass, VP of Marketing at BBG:

Thank you for your interest in and concern for BBG.

I’m sad to have to confirm that, because of financial difficulties coupled with a serious infrastructure issue in the foundation of the Garden’s off-site science building, BBG announced Wednesday that it was suspending its field-based botanical research program and putting the related programs and projects on hiatus. During this suspension interim, there’s going to be very limited access to the 300,000 specimen herbarium.

This decision was not taken lightly, and puts major challenges to not only temporarily relocate the herbarium and re-building the building, but also to plan for bringing back the research program with a strong plan for sustaining it. So not a lot of clarity here but the picture will emerge over the next months and years.

Again, thank you for your support of the garden.

The announcement mentioned was strictly internal, and sent by email. Later this afternoon, I saw the article in the Crown Heights and Prospect Heights edition of DNAInfo, which leaked the email:

“Despite the successes achieved in the Garden’s most recent fiscal year ending June 30th, BBG faced significant challenges in planning the FY14 budget because of increased insurance and employee-benefits expenses, among others,” Garden President Scot Medbury told staff in an email obtained by DNAinfo.

“The Garden faced a shortfall that could not be fully addressed by increasing revenue targets or reducing non-personnel costs.”

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Cuts Science Staff Weeks After Native Garden Debut, DNAInfo, Crown Heights and Prospect Heights edition, 2013-08-23, 10:15 EDT


For the past several years, under the guise of its “Campaign for the Next Century,” the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has been in a development frenzy – the Edibles/Kitchen Garden, The Visitor Center, the Native Flora Garden Expansion, the planned overhaul of the Children’s Corner at Flatbush and Parkside. Ample naming and branding opportunities to go around. At the same time, it has been gradually eroding its scientific and educational missions.

BBG claims these benefits for its “Campaign”:

… these enhancements will help the Garden … [foster] a love and understanding of plants and the natural world and inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.
– “Vision,” Campaign for the Next Century, Brooklyn Botanic Garden [Emphasis added]

What relevant understanding of “plants and the natural world” is possible without science? What inspiration can the next generation find when science is valued less than a plot of Lilacs?

I can only begin to identify other costs and impacts of BBG’s “suspension” of science:

  • The New York Metropolitan Flora Project has provided information to other organizations working to document, and mitigate, the impacts of invasive plants in our region.
  • Field work has supported the work of other programs and organizations, such as the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, and the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, to document, collect, and preserve the natural botanical heritage of the region. 
  • Just one year ago, BBG hosted a two week Herbarium Course, co-sponsored with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for students to “learn how to properly curate and conserve a scientific collection of preserved plants.”
  • Earlier last year, Hobart and William Smith College donated its entire herbarium collection to BBG.

By turning its back on its scientific mission, BBG has betrayed the trust of these and scores of other institutions and individuals that have collaborated with them. BBG has lost the right to call itself a “botanic” garden.

For a vision of what has been lost, read this article of a visit in 2005, just before Scot Medbury was installed as President of BBG, and began destroying it all.

Spring has Sprung, Ivan Oransky, TheScientist, 2005-04-25

Related Content

The Plight of NYC’s Native Flora, 2010-04-08
The Brooklyn Blogade at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2008-10-12
Web Resource: New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF), 2008-06-02

All my Brooklyn Botanic Garden blog posts



Botanic Garden’s celebrated plant research center wilts under layoffs, NY Daily News, 2013-08-28
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Cuts Science Staff Weeks After Native Garden Debut, DNAInfo, Crown 
Heights and Prospect Heights edition, 2013-08-23

Softball Practice: Part 1: When an Organization Undermines Its Own Mission, 2013-08-24; Part 2: Follow up to “When an Organization Undermines . . .”, 2013-08-29
BBG Purge, Backyard and Beyond, 2013-08-23
Brooklyn Botanic Garden suspends science program, Kent Holsinger, 2013-08-23

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Names New President, Press Release, published on BGCI Web site, 2005-08-15

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Announces Interim Herbarium Plans, 2013-09-12
BBG Announces Plan to Reenvision Research Program, 2013-09-06
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Announces Suspension of Research Program, 2013-08-28
Note: BBG PULLED this press release when they decided they were “re-envisioning,” not “suspending.”

Campaign for the Next Century
Herbarium Course at BBG, 2012-08-10
Herbarium Receives Historic Collection, 2012-05-31
New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF)

BBG’s 2013-09-06 Press Release:

In late August, Brooklyn Botanic Garden announced plans to put its research program on hiatus while it grapples with an engineering problem in its science building and formulates a plan for a new research direction in plant conservation.

Garden president Scot Medbury said, “Our commitment to scientific research as a fundamental part of the Garden’s mission is unwavering. We will use this transition period to refine the focus of our research program and strengthen its base of financial support.”

During the hiatus, the Garden is taking proactive steps to protect its valuable herbarium from a failing building foundation and will limit herbarium access to qualified researchers while planning to relocate the collection.

“BBG has successfully reimagined its research programs several times in its hundred-year history, and this is another such juncture,” said Medbury.

BBG’s 2013-09-12 Press Release:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) today announced a new collaboration offered by The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) during a period of planning and construction affecting access to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Herbarium.

In late August, engineering problems affecting the foundation at Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s off-site science center led to a phased closure of that building and consequent access restrictions to its herbarium, the collection of 330,000 pressed, dried plant specimens housed there. While planning gets under way to relocate the BBG Herbarium (BKL), BBG will remain focused on the care of its herbarium collections, maintaining one part-time and two full-time staff members, including its director of collections, Tony Morosco, an eight-year veteran of the University of California’s Jepson Herbarium during a similar period of transition.

As part of the new collaboration, science staff from NYBG’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium will provide additional monitoring and support for the BKL during BBG’s planning phases. BBG’s important subcollection of herbarium type specimens will be temporarily moved to NYBG to facilitate researcher access. NYBG will also help process the return of loans made to other institutions from the BKL and assist with future loan requests. In addition, plans are in progress to transfer the BKL database to NYBG, where it will become a subunit of NYBG’s C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium.

“Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s commitment to ensuring that scientific research remains a fundamental part of its mission is unwavering,” said Scot Medbury, president of BBG. “We are deeply grateful to The New York Botanical Garden for their generous technical support while we undergo a major transition.”

Patent Lies: What’s “Native”? And What’s Not.

Echinacea pallida, Pale Coneflower, growing in my urban backyard native plant garden.
Echinacea pallida, Pale Coneflower

I was appalled to see the National Wildlife Federation publish on their Web site, without qualification or counter-point, a press piece by the “Brand Manager for American Beauties Native Plants.” (Appalled, but unfortunately, not shocked, given NWF’s mishandling of their Monsanto-Scotts-MiracleGro sell-out, and their ham-handed retraction only in the face of public outrage and opposition.)

The Brand Manager’s puff piece includes this statement:

At American Beauties Native Plants, we take a slightly broader view in our definition of native plants–we include cultivars. A cultivar is a plant that has been selected and cultivated because of some unique quality, such as disease resistance, cold hardiness, height, flower form or color. Sometimes interesting varieties are found in nature and brought into cultivation making them cultivated varieties or cultivars. In my years as a research horticulturist I observed pollinators, birds and other wildlife interacting freely with cultivated plants.

This paragraph is immediately followed by a photograph of “[Echinacea] ‘Tiki Torch’ is a hybrid of Echinacea paradoxa and a cultivar of Echinacea purpurea.”

A cultivar is a vegetatively propagated selection – a clone – of an individual from a population. But a hybrid is not a cultivar. More than that, ‘Tiki Torch’ is a patented plant. By definition, anything that is patented must be man-made, NOT natural, not native. One cannot obtain a patent on something that occurs naturally in the wild, even if you select it, propagate, and promote it as a cultivar. American Beauties greenwashing “native” with so broad a brush that they include patented plants is deceptive marketing. NWF blindly supporting such an association by publishing it unchallenged on their Web site is, at best, cluelessness.

In my urban backyard native plant garden, I grow plants from a range of sources, including cultivars, unnamed straight species of unknown geographic origins, and – my most-prized specimens – local ecotypes propagated by the Greenbelt Native Plant Center from wild populations in and around New York City. I also grow in container a beautiful specimen of the patented Heuchera ‘Caramel’ in this (otherwise) native plant garden. I use it to illustrate what is NOT native.

Related Content

Greenbelt Native Plant Center
Native Plants


What Is a Native Plant?, Peggy Anne Montgomery, Brand Manager for American Beauties Native Plants, National Wildlife Federation

Who Cares About Honeybees, Anyway?

2021-10-26: Scraped and back-dated from an Internet Archive copy of Garden Rant.

Originally published as a Guest Rant on Garden Rant on November 4, 2009. The original is no longer available on their Web site.

Subgenus *Agapostemon*, male, on NOID *Helianthus*, perennial sunflower, along my driveway, August 2009 
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been making the news rounds for a few years now. It’s old, if still current, news. Dire outcomes from the loss of honeybees have been proffered. For example, PBS recently introduced an online “ask the expert” feature with this:

Since the winter of 2006, millions of bees have vanished, leaving behind empty hives and a damaged ecosystem. 

Ask “Silence of the Bees” Expert Dr. Diana Cox-Foster, PBS Blog

Really? The ECOSYSTEM?! Did they not notice that honeybees aren’t part of the ecosystem? 

Honeybees are livestock. They are animals which we manage for our uses. We provide them with housing and maintenance. We even move them from field to field, just as we let cows into different pastures for grazing.
Perhaps, if CCD can neither be prevented nor cured, disaster would come to pass. However, the underlying cause would not be the loss of the honeybees but our dependence on them as a consequence of unsustainable agricultural practices.
The old ways of farming include hedgerows, uncultivated areas between fields. The biodiversity of these patches provide substantial habitat for native pollinators, as well as other beneficial insects. When even these rough “unproductive” patches of land are cleared, we set the stage for the patterns that have come to dominate agriculture: more herbicides, more pesticides, more machinery. All of these also damage the soil food webs that support both soil fertility and agricultural ecosystems. Although  manufactured inputs provide temporary relief, they reduce the ecological functions of the land, requiring more and greater inputs to achieve the same effect. This is the definition of addiction, and it’s a clear sign that this way of doing business is unsustainable.
Why do we need to ship and truck pollinators around? There are plenty of native pollinators to do the job, where we haven’t decimated their habitats. There are 4,000 species of bees alone in North America. 226 species are known in New York City. Many of them visit my gardens in Flatbush, Brooklyn; some have even taken up residence. Many native bees are ground-dwellers which need only some open ground in which to dig their nests. When every patch of ground is cultivated, plowed under or paved over, native pollinators disappear. Suddenly, we “need” honeybees for pollination.
I care about the honeybees. I like my honey and beeswax candles. I support efforts to legalize beekeeping in New York City. But not at the expense of the biodiversity that is all around us, even in the city, if only we care enough to look for it, value it, and nurture it.

Related Content

Cellophane Bees Return, 2009-05-02


Ask “Silence of the Bees” Expert Dr. Diana Cox-Foster. [], PBS Blog 

Saving [Honey] Bees: What We Know Now [About CCD]], NY Times, 2009-09-02

Bee Watchers Needed in NYC (and a rant)

The Great Pollinator Project, a joint effort of the Greenbelt Native Plant Center and the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, is recruiting volunteers for 2009 to record and report observations of native bee species in New York City. They are conducting orientations over the next week from 6-8pm at the following locations:

Brooklyn: Monday, June 8th at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Avenue
Staten Island: Tuesday, June 9th at Greenbelt Nature Center, 700 Rockland Avenue
Bronx: Tuesday, June 9th at Van Cortlandt House Museum, Van Cortlandt Park
Queens: Wednesday, June 10th at Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC) 228-06 Northern Blvd.
Manhattan: Tuesday, June 16th at Central Park, North Meadow Recreation Center (Off of 97th St. Transverse Road)

You can RSVP online, by emailing, or by calling 718-370-9044.

I’ll take this opportunity to rant a bit. Honeybees, which we manage both for their products – honey and beeswax – and their service as pollinators, are a single, non-native, species of bee. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been widely reported for several years and is well-embedded in the public consciousness. Meanwhile, the circumstances of the thousands of bee species native to North America go unreported.

Much has been made of agriculture’s dependence on honeybees for pollination. Dire outcomes from the loss of honeybees – widespread crop failures, famine, even human extinction – have been proffered. Perhaps these things would come to pass. However, the underlying cause would not be the loss of honeybees but our dependence on them through unsustainable agricultural practices.

Honeybees are livestock. They are animals which we manage for our uses. We provide them with housing, maintenance, even move them from field to field as we let cows into different pastures for grazing.

Native pollinators will do the job, but only if we leave them a place to live. We clear land for orchards and fields, removing the hedgerows and other “messy” places that had been their home. The monocultures of agriculture are magnified in the deserts of diversity they create. Of course we need to ship domesticated pollinators around (burning fossil fuels in the process); we’ve eliminated the native pollinators by destroying their habitats. In the process, we’ve also driven out native predators of plant pests, thereby initating the addictive cycle of pesticides, fertilizers, more and more inputs needed just to tread water on land until our systems collapse around us.

If that should come to pass, just don’t blame the bees.

One-third of our food depends on the services of a pollinator—bee or other insect, bird, or mammal. Bees are the most important pollinators in the Northeastern U.S., and there are more than 200 species of bees that live right here in New York City. We need to protect these local pollinators that help keep our parks and green spaces healthy and beautiful, and our farmers’ markets stocked with fresh produce.

In 2007, the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation and the Greenbelt Native Plant Center began the Great Pollinator Project (GPP) in collaboration with the Great Sunflower Project in San Francisco, CA. The goals of the GPP are:
1) identify which areas of New York City have good pollinator service (as determined by how quickly bees show up to pollinate flowers at various locations throughout the city);
2) increase understanding of bee distribution;
3) raise public awareness of native bees; and
4) improve park management and home gardening practices to benefit native bees.

If you are interested in our local pollinators, we need your help!

– The Great Pollinator Project

There are many ways to be a Bee Watcher:

  • Observe bee visitation at selected plants that will be distributed at our spring orientations. Conduct your observations in your own garden and submit your data online.
  • Become a Mobile Bee Watcher. Conduct your observations on flowers in your neighborhood or at selected bee gardens planted at various locations throughout New York City and submit your data online.

Bee Watchers

Related Content

Bees, a Mockingbird, and Marriage Equality, 2009-05-22
Cellophane Bees Return, 2009-05-09
Colletes thoracicus (Colletidae), Cellophane Bees, 2008-05-26


Great Pollinator Project
Greenbelt Native Plant Center
Center for Biodiversity and Conservation

13th Annual Plant-O-Rama

2009.02.05: Added link to Ann Raver’s report.

This morning I attended part of the Metro Hort Group‘s (MHG) 13th Annual Plant-O-Rama at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Exhibitors in the Palm House at BBG at the beginning of lunch break. It got much more crowded than this.
Plant-O-Rama 2009

This was my first time attending a horticultural trade show, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. I attended as a member of the general public, interested in becoming, but not yet, a horticultural professional. I wanted to see what local resources might be available to the retail consumer. And I certainly was interested in the speakers.

I got to see Dan Hinkley, founder of the former Heronswood Nursery, and Dr. Michael Dosmann, curator of living collections at the Arnold Arboretum, speak about newly discovered, and newly appreciated, plants coming into the horticultural pipeline.

[Begin rant]

I did not get to see Ken Druse speak. Only when I returned from lunch for his 1pm lecture was I told I could not re-enter without a “green ticket.” My admission fee did not cover the whole day, it only covered the morning. This restriction was not published anywhere, and I was not informed of this when I registered in the morning and they took my money from me. Sort of like paying for a double feature and being told to leave when the first movie finishes. So I left.

Plant-O-Rama 2009

I feel like a victim of Plant-O-Rama’s success. They were disorganized, and no-one had correct information, or any information. Volunteers were dropped into their places with no orientation. They seemed overwhelmed by the numbers attending, and clearly have outgrown the space at BBG. In future years, MHG should not return there; instead, they should find a larger venue, such as the New York Botanical Garden. And MHG needs to get their act together, regardless of the venue. Their bait-and-switch admission policy is inexcusable for an “association of … professionals.”

[End rant]

In the morning, I tried some live micro-blogging (“tweeting” via Twitter) of my attendance. It would have been more fun if there were more of us doing it. Here are some highlights of my tweets from Dan Hinkley’s presentation:

  • His recipe for Bald Eagle (just kidding!)
  • “It’s about the foliage.”
  • “It’s taken me 25 years to ‘get’ grasses.”
  • Actinidia is cat crack.

Dan focussed on the discovery of new plants in the wild and their introduction to horticulture. Also interesting to me was the perspectives he’s gained from moving from a largely shaded location to a sunny, south-facing sloping overlooking Puget Sound (Hardiness Zone 8b, most of the time). It’s there he’s developed his new-found appreciation of grasses, now that he’s been able to grow them and see them thrive in the conditions they require.

My first garden in New York City was a shaded backyard of a tenement building. It’s there that I eventually learned to appreciate the pleasures of foliage form, texture and color, without the “distraction of flowers” as Hinkley put it during his talk. Our gardens teach us, and with each new garden we add something to our appreciation of plants.

From a very different perspective, Michael Dosmann spoke of the legacy of the Arnold Arboretum, and some of the things we are still learning about seemingly familiar genera, such as Malus, Forsythia, Syringa, and Hydrangea. “Ecotype is King” might have been a subtitle for his talk. The natural origins of plants embeds itself in their genetic material, and the significance of that may takes years, or decades, to reveal itself through horticultural experience.


Plant-O-Rama 2009

Between speakers there was a brief coffee break. I went to the Rotunda of BBG’s Lab & Admin building to visit the catalog tables and browse the used gardening books on sale.

Plant-O-Rama 2009

Catalogs make me giddy, and greedy, with abundance. I will never grow all these things. But knowing they’re out there, and that there are so many people passionate about the plants they grow, makes me feel good.

Just a few of the catalogs on display. Most of these were display copies only. There were many more catalogs for the taking at other tables.
Plant-O-Rama 2009


The Palm House was packed with exhibitors. Here’s just a sampling of what, and who, was there. Some of these interested me because of specific projects I have in mind. Others just caught my eye.

Seeds of native plants on display from the Greenbelt Native Plant Center. I have a few plants of local ecotypes propagated by them.
Plant-O-Rama 2009

Hamptons Grass & Bamboo. I really want a Fargesia for the shady, northern side of the house, perhaps alongside a rain garden.
Hamptons Grass & Bamboo

Glover Perennials. A local grower, I’m familiar with them from buying their plants retail at places such as Gowanus Nursery.
Glover Perennials

Couple of glam shots.

Black Meadow Orchids
Black Meadow Orchids

Otto Keil Florists. The mother plant looked to me like a Sempervivum, but I’ve never seen a flower like this on one of them.
Otto Keil Florists

Related Content

#plantorama Twitter stream
Flickr photo set


Metro Hort Group (MHG)
Plant-O-Rama (on BBG Web site)
Brooklyn Botanic Garden

New This Year: The Tried and True, Ann Raver, New York Times, 2009.02.04

Gardens are not Parks, Parks are not Gardens: New challenges facing Brooklyn’s community gardens

Target Park, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn
Village Green

By my best estimate I have now visited 36 of Brooklyn’s community gardens, most of these from the three Brooklyn Community Gardeners Coalition (BCGC) Green With Envy (GWE) Tours I attended this year. This is just an introduction: there are over 200 community gardens in Brooklyn alone.

It’s become clear to me that the future of community gardens in Brooklyn, and throughout NYC, is not assured. They are facing renewed threats to their survival, to their identity as community gardens. Paradoxically, the systems set in place to protect community gardens may contribute to these threats.

Anne Raver’s Home & Garden column in the November 6, 2008 New York Times highlights these threats. She highlights two gardens – one in Jamaica, Queens, the other in Harlem, Manhattan. Both are owned by the New York Restoration Project. Both were recently overhauled by professional garden designers with hundreds of thousands of dollars of private funding.

Walter Hood, a California landscape architect, redesigned a community garden at the corner of Foch Avenue and 165th Street in Jamaica, Queens with $350,000 donated by G-Unity, the private foundation of Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent. The garden, once called the Baisley Park Community League Garden, is now known as the Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson Community Garden. $350Gs buys not only water collectors “shaped like martini glasses”, but naming rights.

Mr. Hood said he leapt at the chance to work with the New York Restoration Project. Community gardens have always been temporary spaces, “social actions by advocacy groups during times of need,” he said. “But when Bette Midler created this nonprofit and gave ownership to these spaces, they become this real thing.”
Healthy Spaces, for People and the Earth, Anne Raver, New York Times, 2008-11-05

Excuse me?! In what way are community-run gardens not “the real thing”? Some of those “temporary spaces” have been in continuous operation as community gardens for four decades. How is it that only the arch touches of a professional designer and corporate sponsorship bestow “realness”? How insulting.


The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA, not to be confused with its antithesis, the American Corn Growers Association) defines a community garden as “any piece of land gardened by a group of people.” While inclusive, this definition is too broad to begin to characterize the challenges and threats to urban green spaces. My current frame for thinking about this defines three broad categories:

a green space open to the public, but not cared for by them; no membership requirement
community garden
a green space cared for by its members; contains personal and/or shared areas gardened by members; contains ornamental and/or agricultural plantings; non-profit, volunteer-run organization/governance
urban farm
dedicated to agricultural – food – production; often setup as a program providing services to a targeted community; may be run as a profit-making venture

Case Study

The official name of the green space in the photo that opens this post is “Target Community Garden.” Yes, that Target. Here’s what the New York Restoration Project, which owns this property, has to say about it:

For 15 years, this garden has been an important resource in improving the safety and quality of life in this Bedford-Stuyvesant community. A local elementary school and several families are currently involved in the maintenance of the garden. During 2004, these residents raised funds to support the site’s use for gatherings, workshops, and as a learning garden by neighborhood school children.

Target is generously supporting the restoration of the garden and selected nationally acclaimed garden designer and horticulturist Sean Conway to provide the garden design. Since 1998, Conway has helped to create the garden centers in Target stores and also designed the gardens at the Target corporate headquarters in Minneapolis. He has also been a frequent guest on Martha Stewart Living and is the co-executive producer and host of Cultivating Life on PBS.
Target Community Park

The corporate sponsorship is part of the design. If the logo on the entrance sign didn’t catch your eye:

the corporate colors and logo incorporated into the privacy screen bordering the lounging plaza assert dominion over the space:

In some sense, this is still a garden. It has flowering plants, a lawn, places to gather. However, in no way can it be called a community garden. Is it reasonable to still call something a community garden when it has been completely redesigned and rebuilt with $250,000 of corporate sponsorship? Even the garden’s designer is corporate, which explains why it feels more like the “Target corporate headquarters in Minneapolis” than a community garden.
Target Community Park

The few remaining gardening plots have been relegated to the worst possible location: huddled against the north side of an adjacent building to the south of the space, completely shaded except during the morning and evening hours of the the long days of summer.
Planting Beds

The community was involved in setting priorities for the design. I can accept that they got what they asked for. The community enjoys the rewards this space provides. They have a space which is open all day for the enjoyment of all residents. People come and gather and interact. This is a village green, a town square.

However, the community is not involved in its upkeep, except in minimal ways. It is no longer effectively “gardened by a group of people.” It’s open to anyone, even those with no hand in its making. That’s a good thing (with apologies to Target’s other corporate personality), but that’s what makes it a park, and not a garden.

The other garden described in Raver’s article has also received the Target touch from corporate consultant Sean Conway:

It would be hard to miss the Target East Harlem Community Garden on East 117th Street, just east of First Avenue. The garden, designed by Mr. Conway and completed in early October, greets the visitor with a forest of steel poles sporting bright red disks. All that’s missing from those circles is a bull’s-eye.

“That would have been too over the top,” he said in a recent conversation from his home in Tiverton, R.I. Mr. Conway, who stars in a PBS show, “The Cultivated Life,” and designs outdoor furniture for Target, noted that “those circles were a little bit of a nod” to the company, which provided $300,000 to build the garden in a vacant lot.

Really? Over the top? This makes at least two corporate parks Mr. Conway has now created for Target out of what once were community gardens. NYRP has already redesigned 30 of its 50 gardens, and has plans to do another dozen, leaving only 8 gardens untouched. If there’s any community left when they’re done, it will be unrecognizable, hidden behind corporate swag.

The pressure to be “open”

In Brooklyn, most community gardens are held by one of the following:

  • The afore-mentioned New York Restoration Project (NYRP)
  • The Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust (BQLT), part of the national Trust for Public Land (TPL)
  • New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks)

There are a handful of other holdings, including those on private property, but most spaces identified as community gardens in Brooklyn are held by one of these three.

In the bad old days, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani placed many of the city’s community gardens on the chopping block, as city-owned “vacant” land to be sold at auction for “development.” The Trust for Public Land stepped in and bought many of these properties.

Bette Midler also came to the rescue:

Celebrated entertainer Bette Midler founded the nonprofit New York Restoration Project (NYRP) in 1995 in the belief that clean, green neighborhoods are fundamental to the quality of life, and that every community in New York City deserves an oasis of natural beauty. Seeing many parks and open spaces in dire need of cleanup and restoration, Ms. Midler created NYRP to be the “conservancy of forgotten places,” particularly in New York City’s underserved communities.

NYRP quickly raised millions of dollars and bought threatened properties outright, preserving them as gardens. 13 years later, NYRP wields tremendous clout; their 2006 financial statements show over $8million net assets, and over $8M annual revenues. That’s a lot of money, and NYRP is under pressure from its sponsors to spend it somewhere, preferably with visible results. This means NYRP is landscaping and redesigning gardens, even when the community is not asking for it.

As more and more community gardens receive professional treatment, the communities of those gardens become less involved in their design and upkeep. Target Park is just an extreme example. The garden, the physical place, is taking precedent over the intangible associations of the hearts, minds, sweat and tears of neighbors working together to build community. With less community investment, gardens slide ever more toward becoming parks for passive enjoyment, and away from providing opportunities for people to dig, get their hands dirty, and connect with our birthright to nurture and grow green, living things.


Related Posts

Green With Envy (GWE) 2008 Tour III of Bed-Stuy Community Gardens


Map of Community Gardens after the settlement, Gotham Gazette
Bringing Peace to the Garden of Tranquility, Land & People, Fall 1999, Trust for Public Land
Community Gardens Memorandum of Agreement, September 17, 2002 (PDF)
Timeline of NYC community gardens
New York’s Community Gardens: A History, TreeBranch Network
History of the 6th and B Garden in the East Village, Manhattan
The Community Garden Movement: Green Guerillas Gain Ground, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation
Green Guerillas: New York City’s Community Gardens, EcoTipping Points Project

Healthy Spaces, for People and the Earth, Anne Raver, New York Times, 2008-11-05

Target Community Park, New York Restoration Project
GreenThumb NYC

“Ditmas Park” in LifeStyler: So Wrong …

North side of Dorchester Road between Rugby and Marlborough Roads, Ditmas Park West (not “Ditmas Park”)
North side of Dorchester Road between Rugby and Marlborough Roads, Ditmas Park West

In their Neighborhood Watch feature today, LifeStyler – “offering tips to young adults in order to promote financial responsibility and fiscally responsible lifestyle choices” – interviews neighbors Ben and Liena of the Ditmas Park Blog:

We turn our attentions to Ditmas Park, one of the three Flatbush historic districts that feature beautiful Victorian houses and a low-key, family-friendly vibe. We spoke with Ben and Liena of Ditmas Park Blog for their takes on one of Brooklyn’s best-kept secrets, and how it is also in a state of change.
– Neighborhood Watch: Ditmas Park, Jeffrey L. Wilson, LifeStyler, 2008-10-22

Are we really such a secret, anymore? Victorian Flatbush was featured in This Old House, for the gods’ sakes, over the summer as the best place in the U.S. to buy an old house in an urban area.

Since they make a point about “historic districts” – which, in NYC, means landmarked and protected by law – I have no qualms about being a stickler for geography. Presumably, the three historic districts they refer to are:

  • Ditmas Park
  • Prospect Park South
  • Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park, which is one district comprising two adjacent neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, LifeStyler chose to illustrate the interview with photos mostly from Ditmas Park West, which is lovely, but not landmarked, and is not part of Ditmas Park. They lifted all the photos from Flickr. They used three of my photos in violation of all three terms of my Creative Commons license:

  • non-commercial use (they have ads on their site)
  • non-derivative (they cropped the photos to fit their page layout)
  • attributed (they only provide my handle on two of the photos, and only one of them is linked to my Flickr site or blog)

Only one of my three photos is from Ditmas Park: a photo of a vegetable stand on Newkirk Avenue.

Kim’s Market, 1521 Newkirk Avenue, Ditmas Park, Flatbush, Brooklyn
Kim's Market, 1521 Newkirk Avenue, Ditmas Park, Flatbush, Brooklyn

I have no time to investigate, but I suspect the other photographers licenses were violated as well. For the record, they are:

I’m not providing any links to LifeStyler’s Web site. Why should I? They didn’t link to any of their folks whose creative content they ripped off.

Please stand by …

… we are experiencing technical difficulties.
Trash 80

Specifically, the graphics card on my Dell laptop is shot. And, with their stellar support, which I already paid for, I get to wait 3-5 BUSINESS days for a replacement part.

So posting from the FG is going to be slim for the next two weeks.

Gardening Annoyances: “Virtual” Nurseries

Nurseries: Include your postal mailing address on every page of your Web site. At the worst, provide the link to a “Contact Us” page that has this information on every page of your Web site.

I value local sources of plants for several reasons:

  • Reduced shipping costs: It costs less to ship something to me from New England than California or Oregon, so it costs less for me to get a plant from local sources. Fuel and transportation costs will continue to increase, so this will become increasingly important.
  • Greater viability: It takes less time to ship something locally than across country, so the plants I receive from local sources are in better condition.
  • Suitability: Plants propagated and grown out locally are more likely to already be accustomed to my climate.
  • Selections: Small, local nurseries are more likely to have small quantities of specialty plants unavailable elsewhere.
  • Economics: It’s more sustainable economically and culturally to support local business when and where I can.

Finding out where you are located should not become a treasure hunt. Case in point: Perennial Express, located (I eventually discovered) on Long Island.

Their home page contains no contact information. There’s also no obvious link to such information, such as the usual “”Contact Us” or equivalent. It now becomes a “treasure hunt”: keep clicking on every available link until you happen to stumble across one that looks like it might lead you to the information you want.

Neither of the links at the bottom of the page – Terms & Conditions, and Shipping Information – provide any information.

Their Catalog page (referred to elsewhere on their site as their “Online Store” – two different ideas, in my mind) tantalizingly, teasingly, provides a “Contact Us” link. However, that link leads to an online form which you can fill out to send a site-generated email. Again, no information about where they might be located.

In fact, nowhere on this site is there any information about how to contact them or where they might be located. Not even the state or area of the country is given anywhere. The only way to find out where they are is to leave their site.

Turns out they have a wholesale operation called The Plantage. There is one link to that buried at the end of their home page. Again, however, there is no obvious link to their contact information, even on their wholesale site.

There are five “fake” links across the top of the home page: Home, Sales, Information, Links, Gardening. “Fake” because they don’t link to anything. They’re just anchors for drop-down menus of links which only appear when you move your mouse over them.

Through this kind of “out of frustration I wave my mouse around the screen just to see what happens” exploration, I eventually discovered that there is a “Contact Us” link hidden beneath the “Information” anchor. There I found just what I was looking for: mailing addresses, with zip codes and everything.

For anyone who cares at this point, they’re located in Mattituck and Cutchogue in far Eastern Long Island, near Orient Point, about 85 miles from where I live. That qualifies as a local source for me. But based on my frustrating experience trying to figure that out, I’m not going turn to them unless and until they can straighten our their retail end of things.

Barbara Corcoran Hates the Earth

Welcome, Apartment Therapy readers! If this story interests you, be sure to learn more by checking out the related posts linked at the end of this article.

Barbara Corcoran thinks the owner of this “townhouse” [sic] should chop down this maple tree, pave over the front yard, and park cars there instead to increase their property values.
1422 Beverly Road

Queens Crap has the goods on this (Daily News columnist advocates paving). I learned about it through Brooklyn Junction (Barbara Corcoran Weighs In On Proposed Yard Change), who was alerted to it by commenter “dbs” on his post about the Yards Text Amendment. I’ve read some excellent follow-up by my neighbor, Crazy Stable (Get a cement truck over there fast) and Forgotten New York (Cuckoo Corcoran).

Trees increase the selling prices of residential properties. Paving over the front yard will decrease the resale value of a home. It will also incur other annual costs to the homeowner, such as energy costs.

As a realtor (not just any realtor, “New York’s top realtor” the byline for her column asserts), Corcoran should know better. She should at least know better than to advise her readers out of ignorance. But then, it’s her Manhattan-myopic company that, even after years of doing business in Brooklyn and the other “outer” boroughs, has no category for “house” in their listings. And ascribes the name “Ditmas Park” to most of Victorian Flatbush. Not to mention she should know something about the Department of City Planning.

Barbara Corcoran thinks this is a townhouse.
1423 Albemarle Road
Oh, and as soon as possible they should chop down that pesky Cherry tree and pave over the front yard so they can park cars on it. She’s sure it will increase the property value.

Q. My wife and I have lived in Queens for the past 10 years and we plan on staying in the area for about another five. We are noticing lately that all of our neighbors are paving their yards and then use the space to park their cars on.

My wife has spent many hours cultivating her plants and would like to keep the garden, but I think having a driveway will help us increase the price of the house when it comes time to sell. What do you think?

A. Hey, a flower garden might look pretty and keep your wife happy, but the space in front of your house is worth a hell of a lot more as a driveway. [emphasis added]

You should know that the city council of Queens [sic, it’s the DCP proposal, the Yards Text Amendment] has just proposed a zoning change that would prohibit residents from paving their yards in some areas.

So get your wife on your side and get a cement truck over there fast.

Ask Barbara, New York Daily News, November 8, 2007

What do you think? Leave a comment below. Even better, write Barbara herself.


Related Posts

Factoid: Street Trees and Property Values, December 2
The State of the Forest in New York City, November 12
Preserving Livable Streets: DCP’s Yards Text Amendment, November 6
Victorian Flatbush at risk from inappropriate zoning, October 23
Another reason to loathe real estate brokers, April 6
NASA Earth Observatory Maps NYC’s Heat Island, Block by Block, August 1, 2006


Daily News columnist advocates paving, Queens Crap
Barbara Corcoran Weighs In On Proposed Yard Change, Brooklyn Junction
Yards Text Amendment, Brooklyn Junction
Get a cement truck over there fast, Crazy Stable
Cuckoo Corcoran, Forgotten New York


If you email Barbara Corcoran, you’ll get this robo-response:

Thanks for sending a question to “Ask Barbara”. Look for Barbara’s answer to your question in her “Ask Barbara” column appearing every Friday in Your Home only in the Daily News. Look for more real estate questions and Barbara’s helpful answers at

Would you like to speak to Barbara directly? Simply reply to this message with your full name, town and daytime phone number. You may be invited to ask your question on Barbara’s new show!

The title of this post comes from the Dilbert comic of June 19. Dogbert has been hired as a green-washing consultant for the company. He advises the pointy-haired boss, “Stop eating, breathing, driving, defecating, and procreating. Sit in the dark and decompose on some garden seeds. Or do you admit you hate the Earth?” The boss responds, “A little.” The cartoon was taken up by anti-environmental bloggers such as Moonbattery: “Thank you Dilbert, for attempting to rescue us from militant kooks who think the global warming hoax is real.”

This is not Barbara Corcoran
Jane Lynch as Christy Cummings in the movie 'Best in Show'