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Community Pride Blooms in the NYCHA Garden Program

Okra, tomatoes and spinach. Marigolds, hibiscus and Black-Eyed Susans. To some these are just ordinary flowers and vegetables you can find at the supermarket or greenmarket, but for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents, these are the proud products of lovingly tended gardens at many NYCHA developments.

Gardening Workshop
Gardening experts share tips
Photo credit: Pete Mikoleski

Begun in 1962, the Garden Program is the largest public housing program of its kind in the nation. Each year, NYCHA hosts a workshop for community gardeners and invites gardening experts to share useful tips, such as how to improve soil quality and how to plant a garden to attract butterflies. Participants also learn how to grow an award-winning garden.

NYCHA sponsors an annual city-wide garden competition that recognizes outstanding children’s, flower and vegetable gardens. This year’s theme is "NYCHA Grows With Its Gardens."

"The gardens where I live are something we are all very proud of," said Joyce Willis, who lives at South Jamaica Houses in Queens and has been part of the Garden Program and competition for 27 years. She has won the city-wide competition several times. "People have their pictures taken in front of the gardens for Easter, for high school graduations, for important moments. The community respects our labors."

South Jamaica Gardens Award Winners
Ms. Willis (left) proudly displays a photo of one of her award winning gardens
Photo credit: Pete Mikoleski

Ms. Willis has a green-thumb for both vegetables and flowers. Among her flower varieties are many different colored marigolds, hydrangeas, hibiscus, impatiens and Black-Eyed Susans. The vegetable garden yields crops of okra, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions and kohlrabi (a member of the cabbage family). Some years she has even cultivated peanuts.

Experienced and novice gardeners alike showed enthusiasm during the workshop, and were eager to apply the lessons learned throughout the day to their gardens at home.

"What I think is best about this program is when you get involved in gardening, you find out so much about people’s lives," said Howard Hemmings, Community Coordinator for NYCHA’s Garden Program. "It brings joy into the lives of the people who participate, and gives them ownership of their homes, which makes people proud of where they live."

Among the organizations represented at the workshop were the Horticultural Society of New York, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Trees New York, Urban Oasis, Environment of New York City, the New York City Parks Department’s Green Thumb program, the U.S. Forest Service and the New York Restoration Project. They have all partnered with NYCHA to beautify more than 2,500 acres of open space at NYCHA’s 343 developments.

Enrollment in the annual city-wide competition is open until July 6 and the winners will be announced in the fall.

By Peter Moses
April 17, 2007

Become a registered gardener
Enter the 2007 Garden Competition
Competencia de Jardines del 2007