Cobble Hill

A secret garden grows in Brooklyn

July 11, 2024 Hannah Epstein
Julia Lichtblau speaking with volunteers of the Secret Garden, a community space located in Cobble Hill. Photo by Hannah Epstein
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COBBLE HILL — The Secret Garden project began before Cobble Hill became synonymous with gentrification.

Even with hypergentrification, where ultra-wealthy buyers turn multi-family buildings into mansions, some green space belongs to everyone,” said Julia Lichtblau, the caretaker for the garden. 

The church next to the Secret Garden, which Julia converted into a home. Photo by Hannah Epstein
The church next to the Secret Garden, which Julia converted into a home. Photo by Hannah Epstein

Once an empty junkyard lot, Christopher Adlington purchased the land in 1970. For 45 years, Adlington tended the garden that he built. Visitors were rarely allowed to enter his space.

In 2001, Lichtblau moved into the old church next door to Adlington’s garden. Despite their overlapping interest in gardening, it took almost 10 years for the two to become friends.

Julia and Saedi speaking on a Sunday morning at the Secret Garden. Photo by Hannah Epstein
Julia and Saedi speaking on a Sunday morning at the Secret Garden. Photo by Hannah Epstein

In 2015, Adlington passed away from cancer. His partner held onto the garden, but since he lacked the ability to tend the space, it became overgrown and unrecognizable. Lichtblau stopped by periodically to help but did not have the time to fully dedicate herself to the space.

Lichtblau decided that an extra pair of hands were necessary to keep the space pristine. She put a sign on the barbed fence, and a dozen volunteers came to help the following weekend. 

Flowers growing in the garden. Photo by Hannah Epstein
Flowers growing in the garden. Photo by Hannah Epstein

The weekly event not only survived the pandemic but thrived. Lichtblau notes it was one of the few social activities people could do during that time.

When Adlington’s partner passed away, he stated in his will that the garden go to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust and remain a community space.

Reneé Manning and Ron Jackson prepping for their concert at the Secret Garden. Photo by Hannah Epstein
Reneé Manning and Ron Jackson prepping for their concert at the Secret Garden. Photo by Hannah Epstein

“Had Nat been persuaded to sell, or if his will hadn’t been explicit about his intention, a developer would unquestionably have been able to bulldoze the garden. All the protests in the world couldn’t have stopped them,” Lichtblau said. 

The Secret Garden established itself as a true community center for the ever-evolving Brooklyn neighborhood.

A volunteer in the garden. Photo by Hannah Epstein
A volunteer in the garden. Photo by Hannah Epstein

Saedi Hitner is one of the original group of volunteers who visits the garden often.

“There’s a core group of volunteers who come regularly. Julia calls them the stalwarts,” Hitner said. “You need to be able to count on people since this is a pretty big space. You need regular help to make it look nice.”

The Secret Garden holds events to raise money for upkeep. Recently, the garden held a jazz solstice event featuring musicians Reneé Manning and Ron Jackson. The event offered drinks, laughs and a few hours of music for attendees who donated $25.

Julia and a volunteer. Photo by Hannah Epstein
Julia and a volunteer. Photo by Hannah Epstein

Volunteers are welcome at the garden on Fridays from 5-7 p.m. and Sundays from 11-1 p.m. at 251 DeGraw street.


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