Hundreds of species of plant and animal life co-exist within the limits of the East New York Urban Youth Corps’ Success Garden. Success Gardens are a project of the Parks Council in collaboration with local non-profit, community, and volunteer organizations. The fourth of its kind, this garden was made possible by a collaboration of many organizations providing funds, inspiration, and labor.
Parks acquired the land on Livonia Avenue between Alabama and Williams Avenues for the garden in 1990, as a replacement for an earlier neighborhood playground that had been re-zoned. The East New York Urban Youth Corps, the Parks Council, and local students designed the garden. Work began in 1994. With the aid of $1,887,000 in mayoral funds, under the supervision of Councilwoman Priscilla A. Wooten, and equipment and labor from Parks and Sanitation, the early landscaping and pond installation was completed. A grant of $20,000 was provided by the Heckscher Foundation for Children for the purposes of fencing the site. Although far from completed, the garden was opened to the public in 1997. It received a $15,000 Environmental Protection Fund Grant from the office of the Governor in June of that year. Other groups that support and work on the site include GreenThumb, Partnerships for Parks, the Council on the Environment, and the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition. Work continues as local schoolchildren and residents enjoy the expanding garden-in-progress.
By its nature, a garden is never truly ‘finished,’ but much of the original design has been laid out and implemented. The design is divided into three parts, or wings. In the central, connecting wing, a bird garden is under construction by workers from the East New York Urban Youth Corps, Americorps, and others. The garden, which features plantings for birds to eat and nest in, includes cranberries, blueberries, conifers, and fruit trees and is a project of the Migratory Bird Restoration Project of the East New York Urban Youth Corps and the Parks Council. A gazebo at the center provides a shady place to sit and watch the returning bird life, as well as the butterflies and bees encouraged by flowering plants in the southwest corner. Workers and visitors in the park have noted a large increase in the number of birds stopping by as the garden grows up. One reason for this is the pond in the northeast third of the garden.
It may look tiny, but this little body of water, a part of the original student design, is a self-contained ecosystem. Water plants dot its surface along with cattails, flag irises, and other reeds, shelter turtles, bullfrogs, crayfish, and catfish in the marshier section. The water and the wildlife prove irresistible to the mockingbirds, sparrows, and mourning doves that congregate here, even tempting a common egret who visits every spring and fall to rest from his migration and to eat up all the fish. Aside from occasionally having to add water, the pond is self-sufficient. Nature has created the rest. The pond is funded by the Urban Resources Partnership as part of an ongoing pond ecology lab program, also in progress at two other Success Gardens in New York City.
Curly willows and weeping willows give the garden a delicate and unusually airy feeling throughout. Plantings also include ornamental cherries, red maples, azaleas, daffodils, and many more. With the exception of some of the fruit trees, all of the plantings are native to the area. Garden paths are paved with flagstones, allowing access to all corners of the delicate planting beds. Students from adjoining P.S. 174 and nearby P.S. 13 use the site for recreation.
The original playground equipment has recently been removed, and is to be replaced with a new play area, funded by the Design Trust for Public Space. The area containing the playground also boasts a raised stage, which hosts everything from film festivals to fashion shows. A mural on the wall behind the stage, painted by Dennis Beswick, features scenes of storytellers, people walking up a mountain to “the Future,” a floral border, and a view of a bridge and skyline bearing the legend “Bridge the Gap.” The center of the mural is an empty square suitable for scenery or the showing of movies, surrounded by a painted proscenium of columns and curtains. Facing the stage is a paved brick picnic area with grills, shade trees, benches and tables.