The Amazing Garden
When this community garden at the corner of Columbia and Carroll Streets began to emerge as an oasis of green in the early 1990s, the Carroll-Columbia West block association had to decide on a fitting name. Longtime resident of the Columbia Waterfront district, Lincoln "Lucky" Engstrom suggested naming the green space “amazing” and other residents quickly agreed. "Amazing" seemed to be the only word that could describe the metamorphosis that was taking place in their neighborhood. The Garden sits on a lot that had been vacant since 1980. Before it became a garden, the lot had been used as an unofficial garbage dump and an illegal parking lot. Led by professional gardener Claire Merlino, a coalition of enthusiastic neighbors acquired the lot through Local Community Board 6 in 1994 to be a community-run green space under the aegis of Operation Greenthumb.
The growth of community gardens punctuates a new era of vitality in the Columbia Waterfront district. Once an area of bustling pier activity and shopping in the 1950s, the neighborhood suffered economic destabilization after the loss of the shipping business to New Jersey and other deep water ports. Moreover, the construction of the Bronx-Queens Expressway brought the noise of cars and trucks to the neighborhood and cut the area off from the rest of Carroll Gardens to the north. The development of the Amazing Garden and other community gardens in the area is a testimonial to the strength and resilience of this neighborhood. Columbia residents recently won the right to maintain the community gardens as green-spaces, exempting these lots from consideration for future developments.
Since 1997, the Amazing Garden has held a Christmas tree shredding ceremony that provides mulch for community use every January. In the summer, the neighborhood gardens draw large crowds to a series of movies called “Reels on Wheels.” In warm weather, the Garden is the site of potluck barbecues and host to sidewalk sales that raise funds for activities and improvements.
The Amazing Garden benefits even those who never set foot inside the park. Volunteers improve the park every year with new plantings and new structures, and they also raise the quality of life in the surrounding community by recycling garbage and spreading greenery. Garden volunteers make use of plant debris and food refuse, processing them in compost bins that eventually yield rich soil for planting. In addition, volunteers take care of the surrounding street trees and have begun to nurture seedlings and saplings, which will eventually be given away to nearby parks. The Amazing Garden features a picnic/barbecue area with tables and chairs, an asphalt and slate walkway, and several planting boxes filled with tomato plants, marigolds, daisies, and other vegetation.