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Flood-Prone Carroll Street Community Garden to Get Makeover

By Leslie Albrecht | September 12, 2012 8:06am

GOWANUS — Gardeners fret when their plants don't get enough water, but one community garden in Gowanus has just the opposite problem — floods.

Heavy rainfall turns the block of Carroll Street and Denton Place into a river, sending polluted storm water into the nearby Gowanus Canal and overwhelming the city's water treatment system.

Now work is about to start on a $245,000 renovation to the block's Gil Hodges Carroll Street Community Garden that will both improve the garden and help control neighborhood flooding.

Community Board 6 will review the final plans for the renovation at its full board meeting on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

The renovation will add porous pavers and landscape elements called bioswales that help trap storm water so it doesn't end up in the canal or sewer system, said Anne Tan, a spokeswoman for the New York Restoration Project, the nonprofit that owns and maintains the garden.

The revamped garden could help keep as much as 14,000 gallons of water a year out of the city's water treatment system — which helps improve water quality for all New Yorkers, Tan noted.

Much of that water will be reused in the garden to nourish plantings. Inspired by the garden's corporate sponsor, London-based perfumier Jo Malone, the garden designers plan to include greenery of "olfactory interest," such as sweetbay magnolia, trumpet honeysuckle, Korean spice viburnum, and clustered mountainmint, Tan said.

The spruced up garden will also have a "reading grove" where locals can sit quietly and enjoy the mini oasis, which is tucked on a quiet corner across from Our Lady of Peace church a block off gritty Fourth Avenue.

"Our vision is to address the hydrology of the area, while providing improved planting areas, raised garden beds, and inviting spaces for passive recreation," Tan said in an email.

The garden was founded by locals in 1982 and named after Brooklyn Dodgers manager Gil Hodges. In 1999, the New York Restoration Project — a nonprofit started by Bette Midler to clean up parks — bought the space when it was in danger of being sold to developers, Tan said.

Since then NYRP has slowly been improving the green spot, where residents and workers at nearby businesses like to read or eat lunch. Students from P.S. 372 at 512 Carroll St. use the garden for an after-school program where they plant vegetables.

A neighborhood shopkeeper, Sal, said the renovation sounded like a good idea. "It's due for a makeover; the trees are going wild," he said.

Sal, who declined to give his last name, owns a store across the street from the garden and has a special connection to the green space — it's on the site of his boyhood home. The garden was built on land that once held a three-story building where Sal grew up in the 1950s, he said.

The building was struck by fire twice and was eventually condemned and torn down by the city in the 1970s, he said. Today it's a leafy sanctuary where neighbors like to sit and chat.

"I tell people they're sitting in my kitchen," Sal said.

Community Board 6 meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Cobble Hill Health Center on 380 Henry Street. The Gil Hodges Carroll Street Community Garden at 534 Carroll Street is open from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on week days and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.