Brooklyn Heights

High-heeled horticulture: Gardening with flair pays off for Sterling Street

Block wins 19th annual Greenest Block in Brooklyn award

August 7, 2013 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Take a tip from the winningest gardeners in Brooklyn: High-heeled shoes make perfect planters.

Alicia Boyd’s 4-inch red patent-leather pumps with posies peeking out of them, perched on her stoop, helped her and her Sterling Street neighbors score the 19th annual Greenest Block in Brooklyn award.

“The whimsicality of the shoes was so charming,” Robin Simmen, director of GreenBridge, told the Brooklyn Eagle Wednesday. “It was evidence of the kind of creativity we look for on a winning block.”

GreenBridge, which is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s community environmental horticulture program, runs the green block contest with Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. It promotes neighborhood beautification on a (pardon the pun) grassroots level.

Residents of nearly 200 blocks in 25 neighborhoods duked it out for bragging rights as the borough’s best gardeners this year. The Sterling Street contenders – who have been trying to win the residential category of the competition for a decade – also wowed the judges because nearly every home on the block participated, with kids learning green-thumb skills in a children’s garden and able-bodied residents working on elderly neighbors’ properties.

“The fact they helped each other – they really focused on being completely inclusive – I love that,” Simmen said.

The award includes a $300 prize – and an al fresco celebration with cake and public officials, which took place Wednesday.

“It’s a great day to stop and smell the roses,” said Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Sandra Chapman, since Borough President Marty Markowitz wasn’t there to offer up his trademark puns.

Boyd, who’s a psychological therapist, was surprised when a neighbor rang her doorbell the other day and told her the block had won.

“I screamed, forgetting I had a client,” Boyd, who lives at 89 Sterling St., told the Eagle. She came home in the middle of a New Orleans vacation for the Greenest Block celebration.

The panel of judges, which included Brooklyn Botanic Garden staffers, metro horticulture pros and gardening journalists, logged about 1,000 miles of travel throughout the borough in the course of choosing the winner, BBG president Scot Medbury said.

“This is indeed a great honor for us,” said Carmen Martinez, president of the B&W Sterling Street Block Association – who confessed she didn’t have a green thumb until the group’s gardening committee showed her how it’s done.

Residents on the Sterling Street block between Washington and Bedford Avenues make the most of small front yards by planting every inch of them with handsome laurel bushes like Innocita Bostick at 85 Sterling St., or pink roses, like Jean Daniels at 74 Sterling St. They have terrific window boxes and stoops lined with planters, and take immaculate care of the flower beds surrounding their street trees, which are soaring London plane trees.

“I tell people if you plant in the full moon, things grow beautifully,” Bostick said. “You weed when the moon is waning.”

Her son Neil comes several times a week from his home in St. Albans, Queens, to work in her garden and look after her.

Daniels – whose good-gardening secrets are potting soil with moisture control and watering every other day – said her neighbors are the best.

“We work together and we really take care of the block,” she said.

The children’s garden at 43 Sterling St., where plants’ names are displayed on markers as teaching tools, has maroon mulch made of rubber that doesn’t change color and need to be replaced.

At 42 Sterling St., Sidney Cook gets up at 6 in the morning to tend the begonias and hibiscus in his mom Everleen’s garden before he goes to work.

“My biggest thing is for her to be happy,” he said.

He prunes constantly, waters the plants daily – or twice a day when temps are above 85 degrees – and gives them Miracle-Gro once every two weeks.

When Cook found out about the block’s victory in the gardening competition, he posted a sign in the window of their home that says, “We won! We won! We won!”

People out on the sidewalk stopped to read it and clapped, which pleased his mom immensely.

“I used to say, ‘Mom why do you go through all this?’ She always told me, ‘It will pay off in the end,’” he recalled.

Brooklyn Heights gardeners weren’t left completely out in the cold in the competition. Montague Street between Clinton and Henry Streets came in second place in another category, Greenest Commercial Block in Brooklyn.

“They have a communal watering truck which is impressive,” Simmen said. “The merchants have really stepped up their participation in the gardening effort.”

Nearby, the Bridge Plaza Community Garden on Concord Street between Bridge and Duffield Streets was named the Best Community Garden Streetscape. Second place in this category went to Fulton Ferry Historic Gardens down on Old Fulton Street between Front Street and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

“It’s extraordinary what they have done in turning a tough traffic triangle into a pleasure to walk through,” Simmen said.  


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