Sep 26, 2014

The Yards

I walk around Coney Island looking at other people's property. Sometimes I covet but mostly I am just curious. Curious about who may be living behind the doors of the house with the yard arranged in neat rows of beans interplanted with lettuce; did the owner plant all those sunflowers or did they spring from last year's flower seeds? What is this place filled with colorful plastic adornments and not one live plant? Sometimes the occupants of the house may be working in the yards and I ask questions. Some attempt to understand or respond given limited skill with English. Sometimes they notice my curiosity and become curious themselves. I see curtains parted, especially if I have a camera in my hand.

I spoke with a lovely woman named Esme who was born in Manchester, Jamaica, WI. Esme is the owner of a house on a north west corner overlooking Neptune Ave, a few blocks south of the bay. We chatted while she took a break from hacking at weeds on the east side of her rather large property. Trees and shrubs had been lost to Hurricane Sandy; the mulberry tree that was removed years ago sprouted from its stump and still plagued her with numerous offspring and wild honeysuckle were taking over her arborvitaes. A forest of weeds, mostly mugwort, was taking over the southeast side, which is the ideal spot for a vegetable garden. Growing vegetables will be her next project.

Esme recalled the incident in which a slew of police cars pulled up to her house with sirens blaring. "Step back and drop your weapon!" She was so surprised to realize that they were addressing her. Minutes before she had been clearing weeds from between cracks in the sidewalk around her house when an old neighbor and friend stopped to chat with her. They talked while Esme held her machete, which is her most used garden tool, behind her. Apparently a passerby called the cops stating that a black woman holding a machete was seen with a white woman.

                                      Fleabane and Rose Campion on the east side of the house

Lychnis coronaria or Rose Campion is a biennial with velvety silver-gray leaves. I've seen one or two of this pretty plant in other Coney Island yards. Esme remembers a time when she had only a few.  Hurricane Sandy dispersed seeds and Esme's sunny dry yard made for ideal growing conditions or this old cottage favorite to multiply. Her neighbors call them weeds. They say she can make a beautiful garden but I think the garden on the Neptune Avenue side is absolutely perfect as it is. Rose Campion combined to create a happy accident and they are very content there. I was very surprised and delighted to have found them.

                                                     Magenta-pink and white Rose Campion

I hope Esme realizes her dream for a vegetable garden soon. It will take a lot of work to clear the weeds and  remove a substantial amount of rubble. She is getting on in years and lives alone. While it lasts, I hope passers-by enjoy the jovial garden of deep pink and white.


Russ, a recently added member, has been keeping the paths weed-free and tidy. The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on bronze ...