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Longtime Caretaker's 'Secret Garden' Reopens in Chelsea

By Mathew Katz | September 25, 2012 10:54am

CHELSEA — Alice would be proud.

Volunteers and community groups breathed new life into a community garden on Monday, reopening it two years after its longtime caretaker passed away.

The narrow plot of land on the south end of West 34th Street between 10th and Dyer avenues was long the domain of Alice Parsekian, who tended to it since the 1960s.

Authorities locked it up after her death in 2010, and the plants that Parsekian lovingly took care of became overgrown. After years of cleaning, re-planting and a redesign, the new community garden, aptly-named Alice's Garden, officially reopened Monday.

"It's really special, it really is like a little secret garden," said Shanti Nagel, director of Community Cultivation at the Clinton Housing Development Company, one of the leaders in the push to revive the garden.

The sliver of land, owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was condemned when the Lincoln Tunnel was built and will now be leased to the CHDC and the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association.

The garden is currently open anyone who lives or works nearby for the price of a $2 key to the main gate. Several locals also have plots in the garden that they can use to plant fresh veggies. Just steps from the bustle of Midtown and Madison Square Garden, the fenced-in, leafy garden blocks out the sights — if not the sounds — of the city.

"If you want to live here, it's crowded," said State Sen. Tom Duane, whose office spearheaded negotiations between the Port Authority and community organizations.

"While we love each other, we do need to have a little quiet and nature. This is everyone's own private garden."

Volunteers met weekly for more than a year to clean, prune and revamp the garden, adding in more plots, benches and a variety of new plantings. They also laid down a meandering brick path, made out of bricks from demolition jobs at the nearby Hudson Yards project.

"We cleaned up everything. We built this ourselves," said Meral Marilo, 45, who worked on the garden. "Now people can come and enjoy their lunch."

Lisa Caines, who lives nearby, knew Parsekian for years and said that the garden was solely the caretaker's responsibility.

"She put a lot of dedication into this garden," she said. "She made it."

To Caines, the new garden furthers Parsekian's legacy while opening it up to the wider local community.

"I'm so grateful for this little oasis," she said.

"We finally have a true community garden again."