Fort Greene Park’s garden beds need your help. We are launching the Fort Greene Park Volunteer Gardener program today to give area residents the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of horticulture while playing an active role in developing and nurturing the more than 35 gardens spread across the park.
The launch of this program comes at a crucial time in the park’s history. Our neighborhood is becoming more built up and dense with each passing day, especially near our Downtown Brooklyn edge. The need for an escape, a refuge for connecting with nature will only intensify with these changes. In the mid-19th century, Fort Greene Park’s founders—newspaper editor and poet Walt Whitman, as well as its first designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux—envisioned our park as a rural retreat in the heart of a growing metropolis. Long before theskyscrapers of our day topped out, they saw the need for a “lung” affording the opportunity to take in sea breezes and gazing upon meadows.
Our park’s gardens can restore and enhance the connection to nature sought by Whitman, Olmsted, and Vaux. As landscape designers Thomas Rainer and Claudia West write in their recent book, Planting in a Post-Wild World, “Truly great planting reminds us of a larger moment in nature—when a group of garden plants makes you feel like walking through a meadow, or hiking through a dark forest, or entering into a woodland glade.”
This time of year, I look with relief at the fireworks of early spring bulbs like crocuses and daffodils that light up a rather drab March landscape. I feel a sense wonder at our 12 forsythia shrubs, knowing they will soon set the hill just west of the tennis courts ablaze in yellow. Ascending the new Willoughby Avenue entrance path, I’m calmed by the understory of ferns and hellebores hugging ancient beeches that mimic a primeval forest. The car traffic below fades away.
As a volunteer gardener, you will help ensure that sense of awe and soul-filling experience of gazing upon blooms and wispy grasses continues through the seasons. In too many garden beds, a single burst of color in April from bulbs isn’t followed by much else. And in winter, the bed may have little evergreen foliage or structural interest. You will work alongside a Parks horticulturalist and educator during a regular shift each week of at least 90 minutes performing the fundamental tasks of gardening: weeding, watering, mulching, and planting.
I include planting last on that last because while there are many gaps in our beds, it’s the work that comes after sinking plants in the ground—thoughtful management—that determines whether the plants will survive against the stresses of a busy urban park. During a typical shift as a volunteer gardener, you might transplant shrubs, pull out tenacious bindweed, roll out hoses for watering, or dig up spent tulips. Over time, you may develop a particular attachment to one or two garden beds.
This sense of ownership lies at the core of the program. It can take a few years or more for a garden to really fill out and evoke the wild, natural look we crave. Your Parks maintenance team, ranging from between 10 workers now and 20 in the summer, is largely seasonal, here for six months before moving on to other assignments. Additionally, the Parks staff often have their hands full with tasks like cleaning and mowing. We are looking for neighbors who can bring institutional knowledge and bridge the gap between coming and going park maintenance administrations.
The volunteer gardener concept is nothing new; The Fort Greene Park Conservancy started as few neighbors planting bulbs in the mid-1990s. Now, the Conservancy, involved in a more dynamic way in park life—from programming to capital project management—is getting back to its roots (pun intended) and helping provide tools, plants, and t-shirts for the program’s launch.
While some previous experience with gardening is preferred, the best candidates for this program are those with time and interest in getting their hands dirty, meeting their neighbors, and channeling a love for Fort Greene Park towards its upkeep. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up and please save the date for one of the mandatory orientations at the Fort Greene Park Visitor Center:
April 6, 5:30 pm -7:30 pm
April 22, 5:30 pm -7:30 pm
April 30, 9:30 am -11:30 am
Thank you for helping making the park bloom!
Director of Fort Greene Park