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The Back Garden Project: An Introduction The Back Garden Project: An Introduction
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The Back Garden Project: An Introduction

by Gordon Douglas

April 7, 2010
When I moved
in to my current apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a run-down but decent-sized 1.5 bedroom on Dekalb Avenue, one of the biggest selling points of the place was the back garden... well, back overgrown-trash-filled-lot really, but that was part of the attraction. I would have the opportunity to clean up and totally remake a bit of urban greenspace. Though the unit is on the second floor, it has access to the garden via a fire escape and catwalk, and the dentist's office that occupies the ground floor doesn't make use of it, so my lovely landlady said I was welcome to try to do something with the mess if I was crazy enough to think that sounded like fun.
I'll be using this blog to track the adventure of clearing, planning, planting, and nurturing this garden over the coming months. Before I get into the space itself, and the project before me, a little more background.I recently moved to Brooklyn from Chicago, where I had engaged in several urban gardening projects. First and foremost, I had a plot in the late, great 61st Street Community Garden in Woodlawn. It was an amazing place, filled with the most loved and nurtured soil I've ever gardened in (and I'm from California's Central Valley). I had squash, peppers, tomatoes, sunflowers, beans, carrots, onions, wildflowers, and all sorts of greens. I even grew corn there on the corner of 61st and Dorchester Streets.
Then there was my own back porch in Hyde Park, a pretty bountiful growing space in its own right, with a variety of herbs, greens, tomatoes, squash, and even hops.
In addition, I'd worked to get some planting going in the too-shady backyard of my apartment building there (onions and nasturtium worked out, but nothing else), and had even begun the arduous process of clearing a sandy, trash-strewn vacant lot for use as gardening space before it became a construction site.
In a sense, I suppose elements of all of these former projects will come in to play with my new garden in Brooklyn. I've cleared trash and worked poor soil, gardened in cramped and under-lit spaces, grown a variety of species, and done a little minor landscaping. But what I have never done is tackle the almost-from-scratch clearing, cleaning, landscaping, and planting of an enclosed garden space of my own, least of all one where (because of low light and likely soil pollution), the primary objective won't be agriculture so much as simply keeping the plants alive, and the primary crops will be chosen by what's indigenous rather than what's productive.So the next step is to just get down there and start clearing trash and figuring out where things could actually ever be grown. After that I'll take some measurements and begin planning how to landscape and plant the space as best I can. I'm going to have the soil toxicity tested too, do some research on the species that might best suit the space, and most importantly just get my hands in the soil.
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The Back Garden Project: An Introduction