This is the first of many short reports from a conference about urban gardening, thanks to the generous support of Olive Barn, EdenMaker Shirley Bovshow in Los Angeles, Barbara Feldt of NY City, Cathy Mastromauro in Cincinnati, and Peter Hoh in Minneapolis.
Over Richmond, Virginia's finest box lunches, about 150 of us were dazzled and energized by the MOST entertaining Drew Becher, executive director of the New York Restoration Project. That's the urban gardening group started back in '95 by Bette Midler. (Love her!)
He started by telling his own story, of growing up in Dayton (which he showed on a map so we'll know where Ohio is) as a weird kid who loved gardening. Who gardened his own yard AND all his neighbors' yards. At 12, he won a "Best Yard" award in a competition intended for adults.
Then in high school he was "sort of annoyed" by the state of the school grounds, so he complained to the school board and ended up starting a beautification campaign. In college, too, he was sort of annoyed by what he saw around him and that led to a committee to oversee the grounds and the commissioning of a master plan for the campaign – by the famous Peter Walker, no less. He still seems annoyed by the "23 different types of trash cans on campus!"
Next, he won an internship for Chicago's Mayor Daley and after speaking up to the boss about problems he saw around the city, found himself hired as Chicago's first Assistant to the Mayor for Landscaping back in the early '90s. That led to green roofs, more street trees, and lots of what used to be called beautification and is now called greening.
So what better background could there be to head up one of the coolest (and most effective) urban greening projects evah! And what better job for a plant geek with an outsized personality? Nobody was fooled by Drew's suited-up banker look at the conference, and it didn't take much sleuthing to find these photos of NYRP's parties, including this shot of him at their yearly Huluween Party (Bette's from Hawaii). Hmm, with this year's shinding coming up soon I wonder if there might be a press pass available for a hard-working gardenblogger. (A girl can dream.)
Next up…lots more about the New York Restoration Project.
Photo left: Bette Midler and Kathy Griffith (love her!) at last year's Huluween Party.