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Official Website of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

Hattie Carthan Garden

Magnolia Tree Earth Center

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Hattie Carthan (1900-1984) was a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident who always had an interest in trees. When she noticed conditions in her neighborhood beginning to deteriorate, Mrs. Carthan began replanting trees there and in the process helped found the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood Tree Corps and the Green Guerillas.

Mrs. Carthan started the Tree Corps in 1971 as a way to teach young people how to care for trees. As a volunteer organization providing supplies, advice and encouragement for all types of urban community green spaces, the Green Guerillas were the force behind the resurgence of the community garden movement in the 1970s. The organization began informally in 1974 with tactics as simple as throwing water balloons filled with seeds into abandoned lots; the positive response showed the overwhelming need for more green space in the inner city.

A proponent of strong neighborhood associations, Carthan became the chairwoman of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Beautification Committee – an effort that brought together 100 block associations in a project that added over 1,500 trees to the neighborhood. Mrs. Carthan also led the charge to preserve a particular Southern magnolia tree (Magnolia grandiflora) that became a symbol of the neighborhood. The tree, rare in the northeast, was brought on a ship from North Carolina in 1885. Carthan not only succeeded in having a wall built to protect this tree but also spearheaded the successful attempt to designate it an official city landmark in 1970. It is one of only two trees to be designated as such (and, after the death of the Weeping beech tree in Queens in 1998, the only landmarked tree still standing).

Carthan continued her campaign by convincing the City to convert three nearby abandoned homes into the Magnolia Tree Earth Center. The brownstones on Lafayette and Marcy Avenues behind Hattie Carthan Garden date to the 1880s and now feature a mural depicting Mrs. Carthan. The Center gained not-for-profit status in 1972.

Operation GreenThumb, a Parks initiative that facilitates the transformation of vacant city lots into community gardens, started rehabilitating the site in 1985. Funded largely by community-block grants from the Federal Housing and Urban Development program, the program enables communities to purchase plants, cleaning supplies and the necessary gardening tools to restore once-neglected properties. Often the gardens are enhanced with art from local artists, making the spots true neighborhood centers.

The City assigned this property to Parks in July 1997, and a watering system and new fencing was installed at the site soon after. In May 1998, the garden was named in honor of Mrs. Carthan.

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