Magnificent micro-gardens beautify New York streets

I’ve been traveling this week so I haven’t had a chance to work in the garden, but this turned up in my Facebook feed and I have to share. In New York City, empty tree pits along Sixth Avenue were collecting trash and growing weeds. “Tree pits” is what the city calls the square openings in the pavement where trees grow…sometimes.  Instead of being discouraged, lighting designer David Kass stepped up and began planting mini gardens in the pits.

What a great project! It combines two of my passions: picking up trash and putting in plants. (I love New York, too.) Kass planted his first garden in 2017. Now he tends 22—using his own money, time, and talent. His work delights passers-by and has attracted the attention of the the local CBS affiliate and the Today show.

As he says, “Where else can you have a hobby that so many people can appreciate?”

Most of the tree pit gardens I see in the section of Manhattan where I’m staying have English ivy and begonias. They’re nice, but Kass’ plantings exhibit more variety. I spy cannas, ornamental grass, even boxwood: tough plants than can survive in harsh conditions. If a tree pit along Sixth Avenue isn’t harsh, I don’t know what is.

From the Just One Person Facebook page, October 17, 2020

Kass has a Facebook page called Just One Person that tells more about his project. He has also set up a GoFundMe to help with the expense. Each garden costs about $125.

From Just One Person’s Facebook Page, October 17, 2020

Apparently, tree pit gardens are a thing, according to this article from New York magazine.  While the pits belong to city, anyone can plant whatever they want in them as long as they don’t hurt the tree (if there is one). All these little plantings in the city are the work of motivated individuals.  

If you look hard enough, you might find vegetables or herbs, or even a small fruit tree.

Diana Budds, “New York City’s Tree Pit Gardens”

Kass’ pits along Sixth Avenue didn’t have trees, just trash  

New York has a great tradition of guerilla gardening, I learned when a good friend took me on a tour of a community garden flourishing in empty lots in the East Village. This was in the nineties, but the mature trees showed that the garden had been there for many years.  

6BC Garden

After battling the city and developers for decades, Green Thumb, New York’s homegrown community garden program, is now considered the largest in the country. Read what the New York Parks Department has to say about this community garden movement here.

Many of New York’s parks and green spaces—the rooftop terraces and backyard courtyards—are oases, but private ones, accessible only to a privileged few. Most of us can only admire them from outside the gates. David Kass’s tree pit gardens appeal to me because they’re democratic: anyone can enjoy them. I also like that he takes the initiative and does what’s required himself. Liz Christy of Green Guerillas is considered the founder of the community garden movement. Maybe David Kass will inspire a movement, too.