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Home and Garden

  • Subject: [cg] Home and Garden
  • From: emmadec@hotmail.com
  • Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2004 10:12:30 -0400

Title: New York Blade Online
The following article from the class website has been sent to you from emmadec@hotmail.com

Message from emmadec@hotmail.com:  Article on Le Petit Versailles on the Lower East Side

http://www. nyblade.com/2004/4-16/arts/homefront/petit.cfm


Home and Garden
Lower East Side?s Petit Versailles

Apr. 16, 2004

It may not contain the massive gardens of Versailles but, for one couple, the 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 artists looking for _expression_ without walls (well, without two of them, anyway). It is managed by a gay couple who have lived together in the neighborhood for 23 years.

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, which encourages local residents to convert vacant lots into gardens. The Parks and Recreation Department program counts 600 member gardens serving 20,000 residents.

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, they are the principles of Allied Productions, a not-for-profit arts organization.

Over the years, they have hosted dance performances, art exhibits, film screenings and other performance-art exhibitions at Petit Versailles. Remnants of some of the artwork remain in the garden, like the two boxes of tissues tastefully 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 20-by-60-foot lot. Those plants, like every garden in the city, are governed by a specific 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 it’s 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 intermingles 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 plot” to themselves.

The garden opens to the public on Houston Street with a beautifully designed iron gate, reminiscent of something from Tolkein’s Lothlorien. The gate reveals a small brick path that winds through the trees and low-lying plants that encircle a small wooden deck. In the back a vine-covered arbor is highlighted 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 maple, 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 it’s a lot easier to dance on wood than it is on soft soil and brick. “The amount of public space in New York gets more and more difficult to negotiate,” Cramer 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 of 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 whenever I like.”

© 2004 The New York Blade | A Window Media Publication

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