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  • Jennifer Jewell


A VERY Green Block in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of The Brooklyn Botanic Garden.


The Greenest Block in Brooklyn is a friendly competition among streets and neighborhood blocks in New York City’s borough of Brooklyn. Initiated by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1994 as a way to both serve and connect with its most immediate locality, the borough of Brooklyn, the competition is going strong 25 years later and today we celebrate the spirit of greening and community with past and present competitors.

“Gardening is Life.”

Zenobia McNally, Lott Street Association

With Mother’s Day behind us, most gardening zones across the US are now past their last frost dates and the gardening season is open. This week we check in on some community-based urban gardening and greening with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and their annual Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest, promoting streetscape gardening, tree stewardship, and community development.

Prizes for the contest are awarded for residential and commercial blocks and for greenest storefront, best window box, and other greening efforts. Today we’re joined by Nina Browne the BBG’s Community Greening Program Manager (great job title if ever there was one), Gayelle Felix of the East 26th Street Block Association, and Zenobia McNally of the Lott Street Block Association. All three women live in Brooklyn, have all been competitors in the contest in the past, and today they all share their stories of adding life and green to their community streets.

When Brooklyn Botanic Garden was founded more than a century ago, New York City area was quickly being developed into a cityscape of buildings and paved roads. Creating a public garden was one way to ensure that some green space remained. Today, the Garden has come to represent the very best in urban gardening and horticultural display. Garden comprises 52 acres, inclusive of many individual gardens – native garden, herb garden, fragrance garden, a children’s garden and so on, and individual conservatories. The famed Olmsted Brothers firm laid out the original site plan back in 1910. The very best public gardens ARE community gardens and Brooklyn Botanic Garden models this beautifully with its 25 year old Greenest Block in Brooklyn endeavor.

The last day to enter the contest this year is June 1st. Contest winners are revealed in August, and dozens of prizes are awarded for greening efforts.


Gayelle Felix, 26th Street Block Association

Gayelle, Zenobia, and Nina joined us with the help of Audio Producer Phyllis Belkin.

As an update to our conversation, Nina and the gardeners shared with me that Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s plant collections are under serious threat from a proposed massive complex including two 39-story towers just 150 feet from the Garden. Towers of this size would block hours of sunlight to these spaces and cause lasting damage to Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a world-renowned treasure whose plant collections have been serving the community and fostering generations of environmental stewards for over 100 years. Learn more and sign BBG’s petition to New York City officials at

Follow along with Brooklyn Botanic Garden's work on line at​ and on Instagram:



Ok thinking out loud here, no matter where you go there you are – that’s what kept coming to mind for me listening to Zenobia and Gayelle talk about their issues when siting, planning, preparing and caring for their garden spaces.

I could hardly be in different environment than they are gardener speaking – suburban northern California with more than many days over 100 degrees and very little humidity – and yet it all comes back to the gardening impulse – flowers and foliage that last, color, fragrance, food sources for us and our neighbors – for insects and birds….the delight we get in sharing – be that sharing a tree with nesting birds, sharing flowers with passing children, or sharing compost space and rewards – and the sadness and frustration we experience with challenges – litter, dog poop, drought…. We are all in this together – and for us gardeners, no matter where we are that includes gardening.

And don’t think I am not considering how to make it to the Callaloo cook off in September ....

It's hard to believe how soon summer will be here – my youngest girl graduates from high school in just a few short weeks. The roses have had their first full heady flush of flowers and after the fires of fall and the rains of winter, the wildflowers and roses alike bloomed with enthusiasm this year. I’ve been watering and weeding and cutting back... dead heading the roses so that they might burst into bloom again close to my daughter’s graduation festivities – the native salvias and buckwheats are just starting to hit their stride here and while the grasslands are fading from the brilliant green of spring to the warm wheat color of summer, the forests and foothills have deepened into their more mature deep green colors.

The bumblebees are back – four different species of them in John’s garden so far this season, the hummingbirds are so busy just now, and the monarchs and swallowtail butterflies – anise and pipevine among a few others glide silently across the garden and meadow daily – so too mosquitos and ticks and a beetle I am watching carefully on the very roses I was telling you about….

It is these daily, weekly, seasonal shifts that I love to watch – to take note of and feel more at home in my place as a result. In reading the UN report published earlier this month citing the vast damage we as humans have wrought on this planet, I am – I’m sure as you are too – heartbroken, despairing.

And while I know one garden alone cannot compensate for the massive loss of species we’re witnessing on a global level – I know too that combined our gardens can be part of the help and solutions. Can be bridges and refuges from chemicals and lost habitats. On May 5th, I had the pleasure of being a docent in the garden of Dr. Rob Schlising, professor emeritus of Biological sciences CSU Chico for our local native plant garden tour. The tour is a collaborative effort of our local Lassen chapter of the California Native Plant Society and our local Altacal Audubon Society – there were 9 gardens in total on the tour and we had around 85 people come through Rob’s garden. The whole point of Rob’s garden is to attract and support as many different species of native bees as he is able and he experiments with loads of different annuals and perennials – a majority of them native species. To date his garden in the heart of suburbia attracts more than 40 different native bee species. Another reminder of being the change we want to see. There are many choices we as a culture can and should be making to be part of improving biodiversity – our gardens are such easy, joyful, proactive choices to make. Plant the change you want to see and tend it with all your heart.

If you want more Cultivating Place in your life, you can subscribe to our newsletter! A View From Here is the email update I send out towards the end of each month, which include botanical thoughts, information on upcoming events, book or garden reviews, and more! This is bonus content, things I have been loving but I haven't been able to feature on the show. If you love the podcast, I think you'll really love what I have to share in the newsletter.

Thanks as always for being here with me - cultivating our places.




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