A couple of months ago we learned that the garden of cats is actually called Hope Garden, and we were invited to join for this season if we wished. There is a guy, Juan who is the president of the garden and also the unofficial mayor of 152nd Street invited us. The cost of the assignment of a plot would be $10 apiece plus 40 hours worth of work for the season, which runs from April till late October. Danusia and I were excited about growing our own vegetables.
The first meeting took place the first week of April on a very cold Saturday morning. A bunch of people, mostly women gathered in the garden along with me, mayor Juan and one other fellow who volunteered to be the garden webmaster. It was so cold the ten or so of us migrated down to Wimpy’s Hamburger Palace on Amsterdam Avenue. Names, numbers and email addresses were exchanged and recorded, plans were made and dates were set.
The week after Easter there was an official opening of the garden, which I discovered is actually a garden of cats because someone found the time to create a cat village of plastic boxes filled with hay somewhere in the back of the garden. I missed opening day because I had to work but Danusia went and filled many big plastic bags with leaves and other debris. The fist order of business is to clean the place up.
On a drizzly Saturday morning two weeks ago a bunch of us met to pay our dues and get our plot assignment, plot # 8. There are 19 3X5 plots for people to plant whatever they wish. There is also a water tank, a gazebo, three sheds, a compost bin and lots of weeds. More on the weeds next week.
That afternoon Danusia and I trekked down to the Union Square Greenmarket and I scored six baby lettuce plants. Danusia convinced me to wait on the tomatoes and she brought a bunch of flowers to plant. We went back and started our plot. Last Saturday after finally getting the code to the gate we were the first ones there and spent a few hours raking and gathering dead leaves from the rear part of the garden, which extends almost the whole length of 152nd Street between Amsterdam and St. Nicholas Ave. We filled 10 garbage bags with leaves.
As we worked we met a fellow named John, a guy around my age who’s been involved with the garden for a few years. He told me about his plans for shoring up a wooden fence that seals off an empty building foundation. There was talk of digging a hole and securing a steel post into concrete at the corner of the fence to secure the corner of the fence. I promised to help, offering to contribute a bag of cement. I told John I’d be available on Friday at 10.
John started calling on Wednesday, and he told me not to buy a bag of cement because there was one already at the garden. He called me twice on Wednesday and once on Thursday, when I told him he’d already told me about the cement. But we agreed to meet at 10 AM on Friday.
Friday morning I got my work gloves and a bucket for the water and set off down the block to put up that fence post. John wasn’t there yet so I started by first planting a bunch of Carolina Grim Reaper seeds I’d harvested from some hot peppers around Christmastime. I did not germinate them, so I’ll let you know if the grow.
Then I watered our plot and started digging the hole for the post. I went to the shed and got the pickaxe and a shovel and started the very hard job of digging a three-foot deep hole. I haven’t dug a hole in the ground since I was in the Army and it hasn’t become any easier. I decided to call John and remind him of our date around 10:30.
“Oh, you’re there already? I’ll be right over.” I was going to call this blog post “Harlem Time.” He arrived presently and I asked him to show me the cement, he’d already left the bag of sand by the fence. We walked over to the shed, and there was a big bag of something lying next to it. Even though there was a plastic bag on it, with all the rain we’ve had it didn’t look promising.
The paper of the bag peeled off in layers, and the stuff in the bag was white. It was plaster of Paris, not cement. Wet plaster of Paris.
“Juan said it was cement,” John stammered.
“It’s not,” I had to say. I found a hand truck in the shed and set off for the nearest hardware store to get a 94 Lb. bag of Portland cement. It was $17 plus tax, five dollars more than Lowes. But I didn’t have to carry it on the subway, so I shouldn’t complain.
Back at the garden we gathered out materials, a big planter that a large plant or tree had been in, the sand, the cement, and our water. I emptied the sand into the vessel and started adding cement, 3 to 1 ratio is recommended but we only had one 50-pound bag of sand so I was generous with the cement, making it almost 1 to 1.
“Should I add the water?” John asked.
“No, I have to mix it dry first, when it’s a uniform color we’ll add the water.” Thank god for You Tube. It was hard work mixing a hundred pounds of powder with a shovel in a big plastic tub. Coupled with digging that hole this was like a two-hour workout at the gym. Finally I got John to start adding water. At some point as he was adding water he clutched his chest à la Fred Sanford.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Well, I have a bad heart,” he said.
“Don’t keel over on me John,” I warned. “At least until we’re done.”
That made him laugh and we got through the mixing and pouring of the cement with a minimum of chest clutching. We found some pieces of wood and made a makeshift cover for our poured cement and secured the post to the fence so it would set level. I was exhausted, but we got it done.
After some more discussion and planning I told him I had to go and left, happy with the morning’s work.
Yesterday we had our weekly garden meeting, in Wimpy’s again on account of the rain. But that’s another story. Tune in next week for the “Garden of Cars.”