Three Gardens in Harlem, or, the Long-Awaited Second Guest Blog Post

For those of who you seeking a break from my tales of over-caffeinated joy and woe, I offer you Nestor Bailly’s treatise on farming in New York City. Not surprisingly, Nestor, today’s guest blogger and co-WPJ intern, has encountered significant difficulty in channeling his inner botanist in the heart of Harlem. Like me– the only girl in the history of Wellesley College to drop Horticulture because she knew she was physically incapable of creating a favorable environment for a plant– Nestor lacks a green thumb.

My mother was due to catch a plane to Dublin for a medical conference and she wanted to say goodbye. We met at the ‘Mediterranean style’ restaurant, formerly a bakery, formerly a liquor store, formerly a crack house, with my step-father and a few neighbors. My family had just finished eating when I arrived, allowing them the pleasure to sit and watch as I slurped down spaghetti with various shellfish. Our neighbors, recently arrived immigrants from France, chatted away as French people do about things French people usually talk about, mostly other people.

After filling up on olive oil, carbs and seabugs, I moseyed back to my house, content but anxious about whether that girl would text me back, if I had made an egregious error on Twitter for all of my 12 followers to see, and wondering if I had enough beer to sustain me for the two-hour happy hour of Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the highlight of my Mondays.

Then I remembered I had things to do. Real things. My neighbors (other ones, not the French ones, but also recent arrivals to Harlem), two delightful young couples with everything to look forward to, had entrusted me with caring for their plants over a week or so. I had been diligent so far, enduring punishing hangovers and bone-crushing laziness to perform my duties, and was not about to give up for no reason.

Bob and Jo live a few doors down from me, on the third floor of a brownstone townhouse. After fiddling with the unfamiliar lock I thought I had mastered, I reentered their world. I had learned a great deal about these people, more than one could by just talking to them, by being in their house for just 15 minutes a day. As it turns out, although one works as a professional pencil pusher at a university and the other is a doctor, they are definitely massive stoners. The closer one looks, the more obvious it becomes; freezer filled with ice cream sandwiches, tons of plants (hence my presence), vaguely eastern-themed drop cloths and tapestries, a picture of them small-eyed and smiling in some nondescript room, and a copy of the “Bunny Suicides” cartoon book on the coffee table. That, and the smell of strong dank emanating from a specific spot in the hallway, opened a new perspective on my now-chill neighbors. They were no longer gentrifying proto-yuppies hanging onto youth by riding fixed gear bikes and living in a once-edgy neighborhood, but a happy couple with good taste in interior minimalism and designer toys in hidden corners.

Just across the street live Joseph and Roberta. Only a few years older than me, they remind me of what I could be like if I had a girlfriend, some income, a passion, and optimism. Everything points to a great home life; well-designed apartment, a big TV, a DJ setup with turntables, a large garden (again, requiring my attention) and booze. Oh, the booze. Upon entering their cozy but poorly lit domain one is confronted with a wall of wine. Literally the entire side of the living room, there must be a hundred bottles up there. Add restraint to one of their traits I lack. But it doesn’t stop there. The fridge is devoid of shelving, maximizing space for various beverages, mostly alcoholic, all fancy (i.e. not Olde English 40oz). The freezer spits out a package of frozen peas when opened, ejected from the pressure of having to share an impossibly tight space with several bottles of liquor. Beers line the counter, their night stand is home to “Whiskey: A User’s Guide” and “New Brain Science” (as per their respective professions), and a mandolin lies ready for to noodlin’ with on a chair. All this in an immaculately clean and well-organized home.

After awkwardly hosing down everything in their backyard (you never know if it needs water or not) for about half an hour, it began to rain. This saved me the pleasure of watering my own plants, for whom I have a love-hate relationship with. My garden is generally the victim of regular droughts and haphazard pruning/maimings, so is pretty hardy and can look after itself. The soil gets fertilized by the cats that spend their time out there, two of which I am supposedly responsible for, and receive water from the rains, as nature intended.

My Harlem Garden, second only to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

Looking out over my green-ish kingdom I remembered what it used to be like back here, 20 years ago; no divisions between yards, wild plants and animals everywhere, junkies and cat burglars roaming the canopy. As a child I was charged with scraping at the dirt to get bits of glass and rock out so we could try to domesticate that wilderness, a Sisyphean task that left me bitter at the Earth and contemptuous of agriculture. Although I did return to the Earth-Mother several of her animal children I had as pets, I never did trust things that required so much attention just to grow out of the ground. I suppose I should have told my neighbors that.

If you’ve enjoyed Nestor’s little agrarian rendezvous, I encourage you to follow his twitter, where tales of subway brawls and other such quintessential New York moments abound.

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One response to “Three Gardens in Harlem, or, the Long-Awaited Second Guest Blog Post

  1. Pingback: The Almighty and His[Her] Peaches | Living on a Latte and a Prayer

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