Nursery slime: Landscapers launch floating herb garden in the Gowanus Canal

Gowanus’s ark: This floating garden will grow 30 different types of plants on the most polluted waterway in the country.
Balmori Associates

If it can grow there, it can grow anywhere.

A group of landscape designers have cast a floating garden into the fetid waters of the Gowanus Canal, which they hope will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can build buoyant flower-beds capable of sustaining life in the toughest of conditions.

“Since most of the waters in cities are polluted today, we needed an extreme situation in which to test this,” said Noemie Lafaurie-Debany, the head honcho at Manhattan urban landscape design studio Balmori Associates, which designed the garden dubbed “Grow On Us.” “The Gowanus was the most extreme situation we could find.”

The horticulturists launched the floating flora into Lavender Lake off the Third Street Bridge earlier this month, and will leave the shrubbery to idly soak up moisture from the most polluted waterway in the country over the next three years, while the team monitors it to determine the viability of cultivating vegetation in the middle of an urban lake.

The craft itself is comprised largely of metal culvert pipes — the same stuff that Brooklyn’s sewage systems are made of — that have been converted into unlikely planters containing herbs and flowers.

Many of the 30 plants on board will sustain themselves directly off the canal’s noxious goop, while others, including a number of edible herbs, will survive courtesy of the on-board water-purifying contraptions, including solar stills made out of recycled plastic domes.

Because it is floating in the middle of Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory — which is also home to schools of Coney Island Whitefish, mercury-laden sludge known as “black mayonnaise,” and the occasional doomed marine mammal — the garden is ironically one of the few things in the neighborhood that isn’t in danger of flooding with putrid water next time there is a storm, said Lafurie-Debanu.

“It’s always at the surface of the water, so it won’t flood like the coasts,” she said.

Eventually, the folks at Balmori plan on launching more floating gardens elsewhere and selling the herbs they yield to restaurants and farmers markets to fund their upkeep, Lafurie-Debanu said.

“We’re hoping that it could be a productive island that could help to pay for the island itself, and also be viewed as public art,” she said.

Just don’t expect to chow down on Gowanus-grown parsley or basil any time soon.

“We will not be selling any of our herbs grown on the Gowanus,” said Lafurie-Debanu. “This is just a test.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Testing the water: The design gurus at Balmori Associates launched this floating garden on the polluted waters of the Gowanus Canal.
Balmori Associates

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