A handful of gardeners in McCarren Park are stumped by the apparent efforts of the city to intimidate them.
On Saturday morning, a city worker began tearing down the fence surrounding the 15-year-old Red Gate Garden — though he stopped his handiwork when garden’s caretakers raised their gloved fists in protest.
Volunteer gardeners Walid Mokh and Gina Riscia, who have looked after the garden for the past 12 years, said they were “shocked and dismayed” at the early morning incident, and spent the rest of the day haphazardly hammering the fence back up.
“I had no idea about this was going to happen,” said Riscia. “This garden can’t survive without a fence. It’s a really rough corner.”
Mokh and Risica say that the Parks Department has been harassing them over the past few months with the goal of eventually forcing them out.
The latest incident was precipitated by a generous offer earlier in the week from a local Boy Scout troupe. The scouts wanted to donate flowering trees and perennials to the garden in celebration of its centennial anniversary but the gardeners told them that the large trees weren’t necessary.
The Parks department went forward with the unwanted planting despite the gardeners’ wishes, leaving the scouts caught in the middle of the arboreal argument. Calls to the Boy Scouts asking for comment about the incident were not returned.
Nearby business owners, such as Meredith Chesney of Mousey Brown Salon on Lorimer Street, are baffled by the incident and angry that the Parks Department has targeted an out-of-the-way community garden that hasn’t harmed anyone.
I want to know why the hell the Parks Department thinks it’s OK to rip down the fence without notice,” said Chesney. “That a few people have taken it upon themselves to sustain, cultivate, and protect a very small slice of a public park should be commended.”
Parks officials say the event was a misunderstanding and the intent was to add new plantings while increasing public access to the space.
“The fence was not removed, rather it was opened to provide greater access,” said Parks spokesman Phil Abramson, who promised that the agency would not alter or change the garden that residents cultivated.
Mokh calls that statement, “an absolute lie,” calling the move “round one” in a city effort to remove the fence permanently.
“Parks does not want us there,” he said.
©2010 Community News Group
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