Cultural Ties to Gardens
New York is a city of small shared gardens, many often found in reclaimed spaces. Private gardens adorn balconies and backyards, while some gardens remain hidden from view on rooftops. There are over 550 community gardens, nearly 800 school gardens, and over 700 public housing gardens in NYCHA developments alone.These shared gardens reflect the wide variety of experiences of the gardeners who tend them. Only about 46% of New York City’s population can boast of being native New Yorkers. The city’s gardens are a true testament to urbanites’ determination to find space to grow plants while reflecting a melting pot of cultures.
Gardens help us form communities. Shared gardens have played a powerful role in helping communities who have experienced the traumas of displacement, such as new immigrants and refugees. For these populations, shared gardens can be a vehicle for re-establishing a sense of place, building new social ties, and celebrating and maintaining cultural traditions. As you stop and view the exhibition, take a moment to admire the fabric of plants and crochet reflecting generations of shared cultural experiences.
These practices are not new to city life. In Madison Square Park, the early gardens were planted primarily with trees. Today an English Elm still stands tall on the north end of the park, a favorite of English colonists, while a Horse Chestnut tree, favored by Dutch settlers, continues to bloom on the Oval Lawn.
Gardens are also a great place to reestablish connections to traditional food and medicine, especially those that may not be commonly available in local groceries. My Neighbor’s Garden features a number of plants with ties to Asian dishes and Caribbean culture including Long Beans, Bitter Melon, and Malabar spinach.