East Flatbush

On the Record: Interview with champion gardener Carol Reneau, winner of the BBG Greenest Block award

August 8, 2023 Lucien Clough
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BROOKLYN EAGLE: What was your role in creating the greenest block in Brooklyn?

A decorated garden on the winning block of East 25th Street between Claredon Road and Avenue D.
Photo: Brooklyn Eagle photo by Lucien Clough

CAROL RENEAU: I am the co-chair of the block’s Garden Club. And we’ve been a club for over 30 years and we’ve been gardening on this block for over 40, 45 years. So we’re well-established gardeners, we’ve been doing it for a while, which has helped us get where we are.

EAGLE: Right, and if I’m not mistaken you did a program at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden?

RENEAU: Yes, I’m what we call a B.U.G. — a Brooklyn Urban Gardener. So the program taught me different planting techniques, and sustainable horticulture methods, and also teaches you how to build community. So with the BUG, along with my Caribbean heritage, we were able to marry the two of them, which has helped us with gardening over the years.

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EAGLE: Right. This is obviously a community effort; was it difficult to get all of the community to pitch in, or was everyone happy to help?

Flowers bloom from a converted wheelbarrow on the sidewalk.
Photo: Brooklyn Eagle photo by Lucien Clough

RENEAU: Most people are super happy to help, and again, only because we’re so established for many years. And what we do is meet people where they are. If they need help with watering, we’re going to do the watering. Whatever it is they need help with, we’re going help. And this is how we get the whole community. We also work with what they like. We don’t try to set any rules for community members. For example, if someone loves hydrangeas, and wants them in their yard, we allow hydrangeas. And if someone doesn’t know anything about gardening and planting, they will get help with that. So that’s how we build community. We also try to include the young people on the block. They are into gardening, they pick out their own plants. Again, this is how we build community, it’s intergenerational. When young people can speak to you about plants, we’re excited.

EAGLE: Yes, that’s the goal.

RENEAU: Yes. We also incorporate different things into our gardening. This year our team was greening for pollinators. So we hatched butterflies, and let them go. We had a butterfly release party. 


RENEAU: Yes, again: building community and participation any which way. Whether it’s a butterfly, picking out plants, whether it’s children or people who have been here for fifty years. We pull it all together.

EAGLE: Have there been other benefits to all the planting that you’ve noticed?

Sunflowers grow outside of a residency on the winning block.
Photo: Brooklyn Eagle photo by Lucien Clough

RENEAU: Oh yes, benefits abound. There is research that proves that we have cleaner air quality. Because our block is so clean, non-residents like to walk here and prefer to walk their dogs, choosing this block over other roads.

EAGLE: So word gets around?

RENEAU: Yes, we put out signage and gotten positive feedback. It’s helped people to learn about the pollinators and trees. And, it’s also been spinning off, as people come to us and ask for mentoring or help with their garden. So we end up sharing our plants with strangers sometimes. They’re walking their dogs and we ask them if they want a little piece of this or that. So that’s how we build community and hope that it’ll get bigger and bigger.


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