Promenade gardeners celebrate another successful growing season

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“There may be finer views than this in the world, but I don’t believe it,” President Abraham Lincoln said in 1864 at the site where the Brooklyn Heights Promenade would later be built by Robert Moses.

But it’s not just the views to the west that make visitors want to stroll along this scenic walkway or settle down on a bench to chat or read a good book. The lovingly-nurtured Promenade gardens, a third of a mile long, serve as the neighborhood’s backyard and oasis.

This oasis is tended by a stalwart group of volunteers who gather every Tuesday morning to weed, compost, plant and snip. It’s one of the largest garden volunteer groups in the city and it’s been going on since 2009, when the Brooklyn Heights Association and the city’s Parks Department formed a partnership called the Promenade Garden Conservancy Project. BHA underwrites roughly half the cost of the Parks Department’s professional horticulturist, Anil Chandrakumar, who tends to the Promenade garden three days a week.

Volunteers with the Promenade Garden Conservancy Project gathered for a party Wednesday night to celebrate another successful season tending the garden on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

On Wednesday evening, the volunteer gardeners gathered for their end-of-season party with hot chocolate and snacks. The event was held in the garden of the Promenade Garden Conservancy Project Manager Koren Volk, who has been volunteering with the group since its founding.

“I originally saw the ad in the Eagle, actually,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “I had retired and I thought, let’s give this a try. I had so much fun that first week that I just kept going; I couldn’t stop.”

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Volk said there are more than 100 volunteers of all types on the mailing list, but there are between 30-35 active volunteers, “And on any Tuesday morning, we get 15 to 20. It’s a really warm group of people,” she said. “A true gardener is a very special person. I think it works on your personality.”

Volunteer gardeners Nina Craig (left) and Rick Dean. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

“It’s a wonderful garden and a wonderful group,” Chandrakumar said. “We’ve been trying to add a lot of things to the gardens. We started a composting program. Also we’ve been adding a lot of native pollinators to the garden as well.”

Chandrakumar said he attended the only agricultural program in a New York City high school, at John Bowne in Flushing. From there he went to SUNY Farmingdale for Horticulture Technology management.

“This has been a really great honor to work with some of the people in this community who are really passionate about their gardening,” he said. “We even do Saturday cleanups in the neighborhood. They always give me a hand with Borough Hall or sometimes Cadman Plaza.

(From left) Nancy Corey, Parks Department horticulturalist Anil Chandrakumar, Wendy Katzman, Lee Palmer. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

“One of my jobs is to make sure we’re enthusiastic about our gardening,” he added. “We really emphasize having fun while you’re in the garden.”

Georgia Larson has been volunteering with the Promenade gardeners for six months. “I’m a newbie,” she laughed. “It’s such a blessing. Anil is just one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met as a person, and he’s also very knowledgeable. You know, those of us doing this gardening work, we work hard. He inspires that.”

Volunteer Mary Rieser Heintjes is an artist who works with natural themes; currently she focuses on organic welding with steel fused with glass. As a child, she had a strawberry patch and took care of her mom’s magnolia tree, and has been gardening since 2016 with BBG, she said. “A few years ago friends in this group said you should come help us on Tuesdays.” She’s been volunteering ever since.

The Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Eagle file photo by Cody Brooks
The Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Eagle file photo by Cody Brooks

The Eagle covered her 2008 exhibition at Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch, Heinties said. Her piece “City Trees : Catalpa,” was featured on the front cover of the paper. “So many people came to the library to see it after the article came out.”

Diana Prizeman, who formerly operated a preschool in Brooklyn Heights, has been volunteering since the group began, she said. “I’ve been traveling a lot this year, so not as much. But when I do come, I love it so much.”

Mary Ellson has been volunteering on and off since about 2015. She had trained at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to be a guide, “But when the pandemic came, they weren’t giving tours any more and so I thought I would go back here. And they’re wonderful. We’ve always had wonderful gardeners teaching us,” she said.

Promenade Garden Conservancy Project Manager Koren Volk and Parks Department’s Anil Chandrakumar. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

“Anil is the most supportive person, very knowledgeable,” she added. “He takes us on tours — he took us on a tour of Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the High Line.”

Steve Sacks has been gardening with the group for about ten years. “When we first moved here from Connecticut, I didn’t know anybody,” he said. “This was a chance to meet people and socialize. I pretend to dig in the dirt, weed and stuff, but mostly I come to talk to people,” he laughed. “And you’re contributing to making the neighborhood pretty.”

Volunteer Mary Ellson. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

“The gardeners meet 9:30 a.m. Tuesdays on the lawn behind Pierrepont Playground,” Volk said. “We always welcome new volunteers and if anyone has any questions reach out to the Brooklyn Heights Association.”

For more information, please email [email protected] or call 718-858-9193.

Volunteer Georgia Larson. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle
Volunteers Susan Abdulezer and Ellen Drexler. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

This article originally appeared on BrooklynEagle.com.


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