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The revamped park puts cilantro and orange azaleas atop a set-up that is meant to keep rainwater from inundating the canal with sewage

The waste water beneath my wings! Bette Midler rings in new, absorbent community garden in Gowanus

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Legendary performer Bette Midler rang in the reopening of a spruced up neighborhood garden just blocks away from the fetid Gowanus Canal on Wednesday.

The Divine Miss M is the founder of the New York Restoration Project, the environmental organization that transformed the barren Gil Hodges Community Garden into a lush oasis using old-fashioned community elbow grease, according to the “Hocus Pocus” star.

“Here we are, so close to the notorious stinking Gowanus Canal, showing the world what can happen when like-minded people work together,” Midler said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The decades-old garden is named after a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball great and located at the flood-prone intersection of Carroll Street and Denton Place. The new design is meant to grow herbs and vegetables while also absorbing 150,000 gallons of storm water annually that would otherwise overwhelm the city’s antiquated sewer system and pour sewage into Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory during hard rains.

“[The New York Restoration Project] is committed to building a vital community space that will reduce pollution, increase biodiversity and protect water quality,” organization director Amy Freitag said.

The new garden includes a compost area, patio seating, an outdoor classroom equipped with a blackboard, and a “fragrance walk” stocked with aromatic plants that were inspired by perfumer Jo Malone, who helped finance the $600,000 overhaul along with the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The department also added street planters in front of the garden, which the agency says will further help soak up rainwater.

“By managing storm water where it falls, and keeping it out of the combined sewer system, the Gil Hodges Community Garden will reduce overflows and contribute to a healthier and cleaner Gowanus Canal,” agency commissioner Carter Strickland said.

The garden renovation is part of a series of experimental projects funded by the Bloomberg administration aimed at keeping rainwater and runoff out of the toxic canal using absorbent plants and soil rather than the pipes and tanks favored by environmental agencies.

The federal government is expected to reveal its final, half-billion-dollar Superfund canal cleanup plan next month and the plan will probably include an old-fashioned, hardware solution in the form of huge canal-side tanks to contain the millions of gallons of raw sewage that spew into the waterway during heavy rains.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.
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