While Susan loves getting her hands in the soil and watching unexpected plants pop up in her plot, her favorite thing about the garden is actually the visitors.
“My pride and joy,” she says, “are all the insects that love to come to my garden. Big bees to smaller bees to different flies to moths… I could just stand here for a long time looking at all the things that are flying through.”
We were doing just that – watching the bees buzz by – on a sunny July morning, while Susan told me a little about her time at 6/15 Green...
Show me around your garden a bit.
This is my space —my stewardship, that’s what they’re called. This is a milkweed called asclepias incarnata. It’s very robust, and if you look, there’s probably like 20 or 30 things flying around here right now.
That’s allium. They come back every year, but they’re also bulbs so you can plant them in the fall. It’s the same family as garlic, onions, and shallots. So if you let all those different plants bloom, they get this sort of round ball.
These are the last of the flowers from foxglove… so pretty. Look at the inside of that. This plant just volunteered. It will seed around from other places. I didn’t plant it; it just came up in this amazing display.
How long ago did you join the garden?
I joined the garden in… I think 2002. So 15, 16 years. I became a professional gardener since I joined the garden. So I have a business, too.
Were you a gardener before you joined the garden?
No, I really wasn’t. Julianne, who’s on this side, is a friend of mine and she joined the garden a few years before me and told me about it. I joined because of her. Then, there was another gardener who worked at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She told me about this internship program they have there. In 2010, I applied to it and was accepted. Since I graduated from that, I have my own gardens that I work on for other people.
It’s very rewarding work, and also challenging at times. You learn all the time.
So it really changed your life.
Yes, it really did.
Did you learn everything as you went?
For my own stuff, it was trial and error. When I started, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Every spring, when green stuff would start coming up, I would decide everything was a weed, and I would start pulling things, and I would have nothing left. It’s definitely a learning curve. Still I look at some of this stuff and I say should I let it go? Should I see what it’s gonna do? Is it a weed? But I have a much better idea now than I did before.
I think that’s the most fun part about gardening. Every day you go out and it looks a little bit different. Something new pops up or something changes and grows.
I know. It really is daily. For that [foxglove] to just come my way without planting it was pretty great.
Do you have any tips for gardeners?
A really good way to start is just doing your soil - adding compost to it and mixing it in. When I first started, that whole area back there [her old plot] was one plot and they [the original stewards] only planted one kind of herb and they didn’t do anything to the soil because this herb didn’t need anything. So it was just dry and lifeless. When I took over, I dug down maybe a foot and added all the compost. I really worked on that soil.
Do you have any life lessons you’ve learned through gardening?
Gardening is so much a part of my life now that it’s very nourishing for my state of mind. As far as life lessons, it just kind of keeps me sane. If I feel crappy, I just dig and plant something, and I feel so much better. I’d recommend it to everyone! Get your hands in the soil. It’s good for your health, mental and physical. For the times we’re living in, it’s really important. I can only do my little part, but we’re really making it all healthier just in our own little part of Brooklyn here. Before, this garden was just a big lot. It was nothing. Now we have this place for people to stop by and birds to nest… lots of people enjoy it.
Interview has been shortened and edited for this post.
This is the first in what I hope to be a series of Gardener Spotlights, highlighting members and their connections with 6/15 Green. If you’re interested in being featured, even if you don’t have your own plot, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!