Sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll—and gardening


Roosevelt Island courtesy of Shutterstock
Roosevelt Island courtesy of Shutterstock

Did you read about that wacky garden club on New York’s Roosevelt Island? Things have gone sadly awry at the tiny East River island’s Garden Club, according to a recent New York Times story. The 120-plot community garden is located in Octagon Park and run by a volunteer board. Full members of the club may own plots, associate members can work in the garden, and there’s about a 75-person waiting list for plots. It’s not an atypical situation in this crowded microcosm, where public green space is relatively abundant, but private garden space is rare.

The new president of the club, April Ward, elected in October, is either reforming or ruining operations at the garden, depending on whose side you’re on. She has accused other members of overnight partying in the space—with compost bins to store solo cups and the garden shed a nexus of illicit activity. She’s also declared war against weeds (as well as weed), and has left waterproof notes in the plots of offenders. At some point, the communal garden shed was set on fire, and the garden was briefly closed (it has since reopened). If you want to know more, I am sure there will be further reports in the Times, or the Roosevelt Island paper.

I like living in a city, but so far, I have resisted the idea of participating in a shared garden space, mainly because I want my garden to be part of my relaxation at home, not just another stop-off on the round of daily chores. I considered getting some kind of plot where I could grow vegetables, but decided I’d be much happier with a CSA share.

Too bad, though, that these people had to turn a peaceful activity that’s supposed to relieve stress into a big fight that will probably end in litigation.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’m just thinking that everybody considers gardening such a staid activity engaged in by little old blue-haired ladies with muddy gloves on, and here we’ve got sex, drugs, drinking, and arson.

    …I am a BORING gardener.

  2. Your article on Sex, Drugs, & Rock and Roll Gardening is sad. One would hope the reason for gardening is to bring solace, inspiration and happiness into your life, not turmoil and angst.

  3. I’ve had community garden plots for over a decade, and I enjoy gardening in a more or less public space. At one garden, my plot is near the gate, where lots of walkers and dog walkers use the path. They sometimes stop to ask a gardening question or inquire about a specific plant. I’ve given away a bunch of plants, too. My rule of thumb is that if someone asks about a plant, I’ll talk about it, and if they’re still interested, I’ll offer them one. I propagate a lot of plants and usually need to give away several flats each spring to make room for new plants.

    Some days I visit the garden and end up spending most of the time chatting with someone I haven’t seen in a while. That’s especially true this time of year, when people who don’t garden in the winter are finally making their way back.

    But it’s true that the biggest pests at community gardens are humans: Random thefts of produce, nongardening activities at odd hours, etc. One of the longtime gardeners left the garden after one too many incidents. Her garden was in a corner where night visitors left debris and, with no bathroom facilities nearby, used her garden plot! In suburbia! She claimed she got an E. coli infection from having to clean up after the visitors.

    (Private gardens have the same problems, though. Last week a friend mentioned her lemon tree was stolen while her house was being renovated. The neighbors who watched from an upstairs window thought she’d sold the tree as a few guys dug it up and loaded it onto a truck! The thieves left a deep, wide hole. And another friend said her dogs always found where the yard workers pooped behind a shed and dug it up! By the time she’d gone to see what the dogs were up to, all that was left was the odor and some soiled paper.)

    Oh, and a local author of mystery novels used this very community garden as a setting for one of her books.

  4. I’ve belonged to a community garden for years, and there are always politics surrounding the policing of the garden. It’s a fine line between not discouraging novice gardeners, and keeping the weeds out of your own plot. The public/private nature of our garden is not always understood by the surrounding community, either; some folks seem to think the veggies we grow are available to anyone who wants them!

  5. These comments make me think that community gardens are a lot like book groups; some are all about the books, others the discussion, and still others about getting together with friends over a bottle of wine and snacks. I guess it pays to shop around for a good fit.

  6. The best thing I’ve read in a long time: “Mr. Schuppert . . . attributed the ‘sex noises’ to the garden’s full-throated bullfrogs.”

  7. “One would hope the reason for gardening is to bring solace, inspiration and happiness into your life, not turmoil and angst.”

    Could not agree more..

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