Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project won’t be able to clean up the Gowanus Canal, so the singing legend settled for the next best thing: bringing a community garden to the surrounding neighborhood.
The new garden, located on Carroll Street between Third and Fourth Avenues, is named in honor of Gil Hodges, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and later managed the New York Mets to a World Series title. That, of course, meant flowery puns about baseball were the order of the day at a dedication ceremony last week.
“Gil Hodges planted seeds of inspiration for many young men,” State Senator Eric Adams said. “I feel sorry for the Brooklyn Dodgers. They should have stayed.”
Even Ms. Midler, who cut the ribbon to officially open the garden, commented on the possibility: “Jay Z needs to bring the Dodgers back. If he can’t do it, no one can.”
In 1999, when then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani sold off plots of city green space that had been mostly occupied by squatters, the NYRP snapped up some 55 plots in the most undesirable neighborhoods. Since then, they’ve restored them piecemeal, taking on corporate sponsors to help with the project.
For Gil Hodges Community Garden, the corporate sponsor was Jo Malone London, the U.K.-based fragrance and beauty brand. The company already sponsors a public park in London’s Battersea neighborhood and is working on a second in Edinburgh, so they liked the idea of continuing the English garden theme. Many of the garden’s plants—basil, mint, sage, peonies—are main notes in some of Jo Malone’s most popular fragrances. Still, corporate branding was kept to a minimum, with one small plaque acknowledging the company’s involvement.
A longtime Manhattanite, Ms. Midler has been living in New York since the 1960s and founded the NYRP in 1995. She acknowledged that the city’s center of gravity has shifted eastward—“Brooklyn is the fastest-rising star in the universe,” she informed the crowd—but said she understood the Gowanus is still a hard sell, especially after the flooding damage it suffered during Superstorm Sandy.
“There are pluses and minuses to everything,” Ms. Midler told the Transom. “Yes, the canal is here. But land values are not as high here as in other parts of Brooklyn. We have found sponsors for 26 of our gardens, and we’re still looking for the rest.”
Although the 3,000-square-foot garden is intended to be public space for people in the community, including the public school just a block away, few people from said community were able to get past the gatekeepers for the grand opening event last week. Male models handed out miniature granola bars and glasses of lemonade, while PR interns fiercely guarded a stack of Jo Malone gift bags.
As local politicians, NYRP staff members and Jo Malone employees mingled in the newfound flora and examined the green infrastructure installation designed to collect water during rainstorms, one young woman expressed joy at having so many flowers and trees near her apartment. “You can’t even smell the Gowanus from here,” she said.
Ms. Midler didn’t disagree but still felt compelled to call out the elephant down the street. After thanking everyone whose work helped make the garden happen, she exclaimed: “Now, clean that stinking canal up!”