Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lotus Garden: Secret Garden Tour Pt. 1

I snuck home last weekend for the Secret Garden Tour and visited two amazing places. So I decided they each deserved their own post (And then I'd feel less nuts about all the writing I'm doing. Or more nuts?)

The Lotus Garden is on the Upper West Side which is like a foreign country. I'm a downtown girl, if you know what I mean. The townhouses and condominiums of Central Park West through to Riverside Drive are completely alien to me. They're full of rich people, you guys! What's interesting about The Lotus Garden is it's completely ornamental and this was a stipulation of its existence. The garden had originally been a ground floor community garden and when it was ripped up for Columbia to develop another building they had enough sway to demand reconstruction. Now the garden is elevated over the new building's parking garage, but growing vegetables was banned as it was considered 'low rent'. Why would you need to grow food when you can buy it?

I don't mean this as a criticism of the garden. Frankly, it's totally beautiful and well maintained and verdant etc. I just find it pretty fascinating how people's attitudes about home gardening have been reflected in the landscape. Upstate now I've noticed that depending on the neighborhood you're driving through many people have started to have vegetable gardens (or continued to if they never had any snobbery about it). Will there come a time when Lotus Garden needs to grow vegetables? Since I'm not usually that interested in ornamental gardens, especially the shaded hosta filled variety I spent a lot of time thinking about that as we toured around.

Members of the garden have a key to let themselves in and not many open hours. That plus the fact it's up a locked staircase on top of a private parking garage means it's a secret garden indeed. The Lotus Garden is also run solely by volunteers and to register as a non-profit they'd need to be open at least 20 hours a week which would be pretty challenging. I wasn't clear from listening if they need more members or money or what...but I guess being a non-profit they could then apply for grants and then get more members and then more money.... wahhh! How confusing the access to park and growing space is in New York! I heart community gardens but they need to become less rarefied and more inclusive if they want to survive. Probably not the Lotus Garden though. Their roots run deep.

They have trees standing twenty feet high and a koi pond whose ancestors probably pre-date my birth. The people who met us there, with cider and crisp apples from the farmer's market as a gift, were gracious and incredibly committed. Carolyn Summers showed off her miniature garden, tiny Hen and Chicks planted in the gravel, baby hostas and ferns stunted by the pots shortening their roots and hidden carefully under ground. It's kind of fascinating how people take pride in what they grow and what they choose to grow and why. With space limitations she made her plot a museum of the small. I could never grow a garden like that...but wouldn't it be incredible if everyone had a little space to see what they'd sow?

You can visit The Lotus Garden from 1-4 every Sunday April-November on W. 97th between Bdwy and West End. Thanks to Huong for photos!