Gardeners’ last stand: wall of flowers symbolically rises against threat of razing

Hands caked with dirt, Madeline Nelson stood up, clutching some purple tulip plants. Behind her, a team of gardeners dug.

Just days before Brooklyn College was scheduled to shrink the existing community garden at the western end of the athletic field, the gardeners descended on the 6,000-square-foot oasis to clean, plant and beautify. Even rain couldn’t keep them from their self-appointed rounds, including the creation of a wall of flowers that they hope will symbolically withstand the threatened bulldozers.

Mother Nature had already caused some bulb flowers to poke through the soil, defying the college administration’s edict that nearly two thirds of the garden should be paved over to make room for a parking lot, which is being moved to allow the field to meet the requirements of NCAA play.

“We didn’t object [to the shrinking of the garden] when we thought the land was truly going to be used for academic purposes,” Nelson contended. “We started to object when Brooklyn College told us they were going to put a parking lot here.

“Between a parking lot and a community garden, the choice is clear,” she added. “I simply don’t understand why the Brooklyn College administration doesn’t see that this time they are on the wrong side.”

The garden has been located on Brooklyn College property since 1997, expanding beyond the 2,500 square feet that the college had initially allotted to it. With the completion of the West Quad project, and the need to reconfigure the field, college administrators have made plans to take a significant part of it back.

They have also taken steps to regain control of the garden. The plan to install a fence around it, as well as to appoint a faculty member to oversee the space and make sure various rules are adhered to. They also plan to divide the space up, reserving up to half of it for college programs.

But all this, while a reduction for community gardeners,is more than the college had proposed back in 2000, Nicole Hosten, director of BC’s Office of College and Community Relations, told the gardeners during a recent meeting at the office of Community Board 14.

At that time, she recalled during the meeting, the college had planned simply to eliminate the garden. They re-thought the position and eventually came up with the current plan, which involves moving established trees from the garden to the new West Quad.

But, said Nelson, with April 1 fast approaching, the college had made no move yet to relocate trees and ready the new garden space for planting.

So, she said, “We are continuing our good stewardship of the land. We see no reason to stop at this point. The college still hasn’t done what they said they were going to do a month ago, and it is now planting season, so we’re planting.”

As the community gardeners worked, they were joined by a group of Brooklyn College students enrolled in Environmental Ethics, a class in the college’s Philosophy Department.

“I think it’s really hypocritical that the college is trying to tear down three quarters of the garden, especially since there’s such a large push, at the school and within CUNY, for sustainability education,” saide one of the students, Isabelle Jagninski.

“This is such an amazing opportunity for students and faculty members and community to get together and rally around something,” she added. “it’s unfortunate it had to come out of this, instead of the love of community gardening.”

Most students are unaware of the garden and the threat to it, added Yevgeniy Safronov, who is also in the class. Given the limited number of parking spots that would be gained by razing most of the garden, he said, the tradeoff was “counterproductive.”

By press time, Brooklyn College had not returned a call requesting comment.