A History of Gardens in Brooklyn’s “Garden Spot”
Greenpoint has a nickname, “The Garden Spot,” which was given at a time when our area was truly a bucolic haven. Although it later became one of the most industrial areas on planet earth, today our community is trying to live up to the verdant image of its nickname and Greenpoint is rapidly becoming a “green point” again, but let us take a look at the history of gardens in our area.
Greenpoint was once a farming community and every family had its own garden. There was a huge hill running around the area of Franklin and Green Streets called Pottery Hill where wildflowers grew. The flowers there were so pretty that courting couples sailed over from Manhattan to enjoy its beauty. However, the name Garden Spot derives from the Meserole Orchard, which once occupied a huge swath of land around Meserole Avenue. The garden was famous for its apples and the beautiful apple blossoms each spring, but in what has become a familiar local story: the real estate was too valuable and the orchard disappeared as lots were sold off for housing.
Greenpoint became an area of factories and heavy industry, but it was also still an area of homes, many of which boasted gardens. One of the most beautiful Gardens was the rose garden of Thomas Smith, the porcelain baron who lived on Milton Street, but many local kids who grew up in tenements never saw a garden and the name “ The Garden Spot” became something of a cruel joke in the heavily polluted area. The area suffered from a severe lack of green spaces, however, Pete McGuinness not only ironically referred to the area of smokestacks and pollution as “ The Garden Spot of Brooklyn,” but he even called it “The Garden Spot of the Universe.”
During World War I, with millions of farmers sent off to fight there were food shortages and McCarren Park was planted as a huge victory garden, tended by local school kids who had never planted anything and they soon became enthusiastic gardeners. After the war, the city wanted to pull the plug on the victory gardens, but McGuinness realized that many kids loved the gardening and he threatened to bring in busloads of angry local school children, rakes in hand, to the City Council to demand further garden funding. His ploy worked and the gardens continued in local parks for years after.
During the sixties and seventies, many buildings became abandoned and burned. One of these vacant lots at 61 Franklin Street became a small community garden, lovingly tended by local volunteers. The Lentol Gardens is also a bucolic oasis on Bayard Street. The land for Lentol Garden was acquired by the city in 1946 during the creation of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The Park was named for the father of local Representative Joe Lentol, Edward Lentol who represented the area first in the Assembly and then in the State Senate for decades. In 1992, the park became known as the Lentol Gardens.
Today there is a new frontier for gardens: rooftops. Thanks to Broadway Stages our area has two unique gardens. The Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is an internationally acclaimed green roof and commercially operated vegetable farm atop a three-story warehouse. On the shoreline of the East River, with a sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a 6,000 square foot green roof organic vegetable farm.
Even More dramatic than the Eagle Street Rooftop garden is Kingsland Wildflowers, an oasis of wildflowers and birds atop a former industrial building in the heart of a Zone of very heavy local industry. Opened in 2016, the garden is the conception of Marni Majorelle, founder of Alive Structures. Marni brought together local businesses and non-profit organizations. The NYC Audubon manages the project and oversees green roof wildlife monitoring through bat and bird microphones and swallow houses installed on the green roof. Newtown Creek
Alliance conducts research into land use, policy, and economic factors of green roof installation in industrial areas. A resident of Greenpoint in the 1980s who returned to the area from Poland recently was pleasantly surprised by the number of trees that have been planted. The trees, two new parks, and rooftop and community gardens are once again making our area the “ Garden Spot’ of Brooklyn.