Monday, March 17, 2008

Oh, That's Who...

I have been gardening for twenty-five years. My first gardening memory is pulling out clumps of Sedum (I didn't know its name at the time) that grew as a ground cover along the side of my house. I moved it somewhere and it lived. I paid attention to its progress. Later on, I found myself moving clumps of grass around, doing the same thing. To this day I still move my plants around, and maybe too much. But, much like in those early years, they mostly keep on going.

In my mid-teens I began growing tomatoes, basil, and green beans for my mother. My father had been doing it previously but had since lost interest. I wasn't very good, losing tomatoes to wilt half-way through the season. Answer -dump miracle grow on them. Plants still lost. Hmmm.

While in college, I worked at a retail greenhouse and occasionally doing various landscaping jobs. I started reading Organic Gardening magazine. After graduation, I spent a couple of years building decks and planting gardens on rooftops and in backyards in Manhattan. I read Sara Stein's Noah's Garden in just a few days.

In those restless years I moved to Portland, Oregon. There I took up work with a landscaping company and had my first yard garden. I let the lawn grow tall just to see what would come up (neighbors hated that). After moving back to NYC, I began gardening for a couple in Great Neck, NY, and worked with a deck builder in Manhattan.

In 1997, I went to graduate school in New Mexico to earn an Master of Fine Arts. I had a yard garden and container garden, and spent time helping many friends with gardening problems and picking up some garden work. I earned a minor in landscape design while there and also designed and installed a home landscape for the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. I started reading J.B. Jackson and other cultural geographers.

Two views of my small, L-shaped New Mexico garden in 1998

After graduate school, in 2000, I came back to NYC, and begun work at a summer-only artist residency program in Maine. I gardened when and where it was possible. Around this time I stopped reading OG magazine, felt it was repeating itself. In 2002 I began work on a large lot-sized private property in Brooklyn. That project took a parking lot and transformed it into a garden -it took nearly two years. Unfortunately, it has since been sold and is under the wrecking ball. During this period I began creating gardening and nature motif art projects.

Greenhouse I built and tended at Socrates Sculpture Park in 2001-02

In 2004 I decided to turn the soil strip in front of my apartment into a garden after my landlord removed some old telephone poles from the area. Also in 2004, after a year of house renovation work, I had enough resources to rent a studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I began painting steadily again. After a rent increase, I moved my studio to a shared sublet in Dumbo, and after an increase there I moved again, and hopefully finally, to Sunset Park. In 2007 I began this blog and also began reading Paul Shepard's writing.

Brooklyn garden, October 2007

I do have a personal garden design approach, that of a strong hardscaping structure softened by abundant plantings, and a fundamentally organic approach to gardening practices. Organic, for me, is not a political stance, but just plain practical. My gardening prefers the hardy over the temperamental, rain over irrigation, compost over fertilizer, creatures over pesticides. Yet I will from time to time indulge in things that may require special attention. In other words I have a philosophy, developed over many years of experiments and failure, that is open but principled.


  1. Hello Friend,

    The Brownstone Brooklyn Garden District is pleased to announce our new web presence at:


    Please visit us to learn more about our exciting upcoming events!

    Stereoscopic Garden Party - March 22, 2009

    The 12th Annual Garden Walk - June 14, 2009

  2. It's an interesting blog site. My lab in Brooklyn College do soil testing. I also work with a few soil experts in NYC area, and we could offer you some advices as well. Please contact me if you are interested.

    Professor Joshua Cheng
    (718) 951-5000 x2647

  3. Professor Cheng,

    Thanks for your kind offer. I often wonder about soil contaminants in our city soils. Particularly hydrocarbons and some heavy metals. Lead is a big concern, but only as much as it is poisonous in

    quantity. I just came back from the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia where they had an exhibit on lead as

    a poison. Very interesting. For instance I did not know that Lead was used in our agricultural past and Mexico's agricultural present in the insecticide, lead arsenate. What does Brooklyn College charge for soil testing and what can you test for?



  4. This is great:
    "Organic, for me, is not a political stance, but just plain practical. My gardening prefers the hardy over the temperamental, rain over irrigation, compost over fertilizer, creatures over pesticides."
    May I quote you? With attribution of course.

  5. Pam,

    Quote and attribute! Spread it around like compost!

  6. Hi! I just found your blog while trying to figure out where I can get (cheap, hopefully!) top soil for a raised bed vegetable garden my landlord is letting me put in front of my apartment. I live in Bed-Stuy and I was hoping I could find something cheaper than Home Depot. Do you have any idea where I could go, or if there are affordable delivery options?



If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...