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By CYD ZEIGLER JR.
Apr. 16, 2004
It may not contain the massive gardens of Versailles but, for one couple,
community garden they started seven years ago is a much-loved patch of green
in the midst of the redevelopment of the Lower East Side.
Since 1996, Le Petit Versailles, as the organizers
call it, has been a haven
for gardeners interested in truly communal gardening and an outlet for
looking for _expression_ without walls (well, without two of them, anyway).
is managed by a gay couple who have lived together in the neighborhood for
In a once-vacant lot on Houston Street just west of
Avenue C, Jack Waters
and Peter Cramer’s Petit Versailles is a member of Green Thumb,
encourages local residents to convert vacant lots into gardens. The Parks
Recreation Department program counts 600 member gardens serving 20,000
Petit Versailles, where an illegal automobile chop
shop stood just 10 years
ago, is Waters and Cramer’s baby.
From May 1 to Oct. 1, the official “garden
season” in New York,
Waters and Cramer turn their garden into an open art gallery. Together,
are the principles of Allied Productions, a not-for-profit arts
Over the years, they have hosted dance performances,
art exhibits, film screenings
and other performance-art exhibitions at Petit Versailles. Remnants of
of the artwork remain in the garden, like the two boxes of tissues
adorning the bric
k walls entitled the “Wailing Wall.”
Gatherings have often attracted upwards of 80 people
— many spilling
out into the street, crowded out by the plants that dominate the
lot. Those plants, like every garden in the city, are governed by a
approach to its layout.
One common concept in community gardens is a
“plot” design. “In
a lot of public gardens, everyone has a little plot, so you’ll go in
and there will be a space here for Sally and a space here for Tom, so
really much like the grid of the city,” Cramer said.
In those properties, Cramer said, the works of the
individual gardeners don’t
interact, butting up against one another. Petit Versailles is instead
“colonized” — the
symmetry of the entire property is kept in mind. A single plot
and complements each gardener’s efforts.
Cramer, a Radical Faerie, acknowledged that some
people are turned off by
the concept because “people can’t have their little
The garden opens to the public on Houston Street with
a beautifully designed
iron gate, reminiscent of something from Tolkein’s Lothlorien. The
reveals a small brick path that winds through the trees and low-lying
that encircle a small wooden deck. In the back a vine-covered arbor is
with small white lights.
The flowers in bloom now are like most other gardens
in the city: dominated
by daffodils and forsythia. The flora of note is a beautiful Japanese
which stands out from the rest with its maroon leaves.
Each year, Waters and Cramer focus on adding something
new to the garden.
Last year, they built the small deck on which to perform, because
a lot easier to dance on wood than it is on soft soil and brick.
amount of public space in New York gets more and more difficult to
said. “A number of the gardens have been lost and there’s more
development going on in this neighborhood than ever before, so the amount
green space is really vital.”
Cramer admits that his situation has certain personal
fringe benefits: “I
live adjacent to the garden, so I get to come in here and do my yoga
© 2004 The New York Blade | A Window Media
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