NYCHA After-School Program's Butterfly Garden Takes Root in Brownsville

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

By Erica Cooperberg

In the midst of Brownsville’s public housing towers, new roots have been planted by many pairs of small hands. Nearly 15 students pulled on garden gloves last Tuesday, helping to contribute to the community’s newest outdoor project – planting a butterfly garden.

Although some students were hesitant at first, by the end of the session at the Seth Low Community Center every face beamed with a prideful smile. It was a hopeful foreshadowing of the floral growth to come.

This most recent butterfly garden planting was part of an ongoing partnership between New Yorkers for Parks and the New York City Housing Authority’s Garden and Greening Program to help connect NYCHA youth with the open spaces surrounding their residences.

Students between the ages of six and 12 attending an after-school session at the center were invited last week to join NY4P and help beautify their neighborhood by planting flora that will attract pollinating insects, like bees and butterflies.

Nine-year-old Christopher Livingston was excited at the prospect of sharing his home with more colorful insects. “I’ve just seen this one butterfly, a monarch butterfly,” he said. “It follows me around!”

But he wasn’t partial to flying insects: “Today I saw roly-polys in the dirt, centipedes, some ants, and seeing it all taught me that nature’s not so bad when you get to know it.”

Though they only had one small, concrete-bordered rectangle in which to plant, the young gardeners were all able to exercise their green thumbs by choosing their own plots, and enjoyed protectively scooping handfuls of soil around their plants’ stems.

After the group planting, rain started to fall, and each child focused on delicately cultivating their own spider plants – oftentimes by cautiously holding their planter outside in the light drizzle. Many took those plants home.

“I’m gonna put mine in my windowsill and open my window at night so my plant can have air,” said seven-year-old Dayviyana McFadden.

Bryana Morgan, 9, had a similar plan. “I’m putting the spider plant in my room because my mom will think it’s messy!” She noted that neglecting her beloved plant simply was not an option: “I’m going to water it every day.”

Her younger sister, Alyssa, agreed: “It’s going to be a lot of work!” But with her pigtails swinging, she enthused that, under her care, her plant will “grow so big that I’m gonna have to get another pot!”

 At first, some students were reluctant to grab a planter for themselves.

“I can’t take a plant home because I’ll be in summer camp and my parents work, so no one will be home to take of it,” Tyler Hodges worried. But after helping friends with their plantings, Hodges finally grabbed his own flower pot and set off to carefully place his hand-selected spider plant in it.

The late spring and early summer butterfly garden plantings are an extension of last fall’s inaugural NY4P/NYCHA plantings through the Daffodil Project, which NY4P founded in 2001 as a living memorial to September 11. With nearly five million free bulbs planted citywide by more than 40,000 school kids, parks and gardening groups, civic organizations, corporate volunteers and other New Yorkers, it’s now one of the largest volunteer efforts in the city’s history.

NY4P formally partnered with NYCHA’s Garden and Greening staff in 2012 and sponsored Daffodil Project youth plantings at NYCHA community centers in every borough, including two in Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy. This fall, NY4P will extend its community plantings to NYCHA developments most heavily impacted by Sandy, including waterfront communities in Staten Island, South Brooklyn and the Rockaways.

Judging from the participants’ reactions, last week’s planting at Seth Low was a memorable event.

“I think planting [today] was kind of inspiring, because if people plant now, they can teach other kids about plants, and then those kids can teach other kids,” Livingston said.

And, leading by example, it wasn’t long before he was helping others nestle their own plants into the soil.

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