I visited family in New Jersey this past weekend. Gigi and Jeff own a cute 1930s house on a cul-de-sac with a small landscaped backyard. The first floor of their three-story nest is bigger than my entire NYC apartment.
Located about 40 minutes outside of Manhattan in Radburn, their home would seem luxurious at this point in my space-constrained world (after living in a less-than-1000-square-foot flat since 2007), and I should be incredibly envious. But in reality, I think that I’m most jealous of the garden. If I had any sense, I’d long for the cute downstairs powder room (with an exhaust fan!) and the huge laundry/mud room with a Bosch washer and dryer. But instead, I really envy the yard, the garden — and the grill — I really miss owning a grill, especially after cousin Gigi told me that she grills in the snow. How fun does that sound? It rarely snows in Georgia, so grilling in the snow was never a possibility.
After five-plus years of living in Manhattan, what I miss most is a backyard, garden, and grill? Most New York City transplants would miss a list of other amenities such as a car, a walk-in closet, wider aisles in their grocery store, or full-size appliances in their kitchen. But for me, it’s a backyard, garden, and grill?
Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t miss tending to it, working in it, weeding, raking leaves, watering it, and digging up dead plants, or better yet—watching plants die. (It took years for my thumb to turn from black to green.) I just miss gazing at it on a daily basis, and buying the plants. I loved weekly trips to Home Depot or Lowe’s to pick out plants. I bought plants that I knew would never survive more than a week, but the happiness those plants brought for that brief week until they died cannot be described. Not all all logical, I know.
I miss the proud feeling that used to come over me each time I looked out the windows of my Victorian bungalow, knowing the pile of dirt that lived there before, and what had come to life since. I miss watching things flourish and grow.
You know what’s funny? I didn’t even plant that entire garden myself. I did some of it, but I had plenty of help along the way. All of those people who tilled, dug, planted, fertilized, watered, and weeded should be the proud ones. I really shouldn’t care one bit. But I do. They probably never went back to look at it again either. Even I haven’t been back to my house in Atlanta in years. For all I know, the new owners haven’t watered it and the whole thing is dead by now. No real reason to miss it then, is there? Or maybe if it’s dead, I should miss it more.
But lucky for me, even though I don’t own a garden now, I’ve got plenty to visit in NYC. When I need a shot of greenery or a flower and planting overdose, I visit the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park. It’s about a ten-minute walk from my Upper West Side apartment, and it’s lush and beautiful, just like in the movie, “You’ve Got Mail.” Corny, I know. But this is the best kind of garden in my opinion. The Garden People (a volunteer organization) dig, plant, water and maintain it. It’s a group effort, kind of like my garden, but just a whole lot prettier.
The result is creative genius. It’s a melting pot of textures, colors, bulbs, evergreens, annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, and just about anything else that has roots and will grow if watered and given half the chance. It’s an absolutely beautiful patch of horticultural diversity.
Each year in the spring when I walk Bogey through Riverside, the air is starting to turn slightly warmer, I see the dedicated gardeners emerge from hibernation, and begin nurturing their spots. Within weeks, it seems as if the two famous planted patches explode and reach new heights, only to evolve and bloom through the summer and into fall, until cold returns and another season comes to an end. The garden sleeps for a few months, and then the miraculous process begins all over again.
I observe those gardeners day after day during my daily walk until the plants take hold and begin to thrive. And each summer, the 91st Street Garden appears to be a little different, a little more lush and colorful than the year before.
As I miss my own garden more with each passing year that I live in Manhattan, I grow to appreciate this garden more and more at the start of each spring. It’s like my own personal flowering parcel, minus the money and labor required. It bears most every plant that I love, and some that I’ve never seen nor know the names. It’s not in my own backyard, but by New York standards, it’s pretty darn close.
You could say that I’m one of many secret admirers of the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park. It’s my little slice of landscape heaven in the concrete jungle. Now if only I had a grill.