Last week I went to the opening of a garden on 26th Street, just east of 10th Avenue, right in front of the Hudson Guild houses in Manhattan. The small but highly symbolic garden is part of Fritz Haege’s Edible Estates series.
Haeg, a delightful, earnest man who flew in for the event from his hometown of L.A., is the author of EDIBLE ESTATES: AN ATTACK ON THE FRONT LAWN, due to come out in a revised edition soon. Haeg is following in the footsteps of Rosalind Creasy, who spear-headed the movement to plant edible gardens instead of front lawns over two decades ago and has written numerous volumes explaining precisely how-to-do-it.
The garden was planted by volunteers with the herbs and vegetables eaten by the 250 or so members of the Lenape tribe who inhabited this island when Henry Hudson dropped his anchor in New York Harbor in 1609. (The Lenape didn’t think they were selling the island to the Dutch; they just thought they were leasing some of the land. Boy, were they wrong.)
Aside from relying upon hunting and fishing for their diet, the Lenape planted and ate “the three sisters” of corn, beans, and squash and a variety of wild berries and vegetables, including the Jerusalem artichoke.
By the time I got there, the garden looked pretty shabby. The squirrels had spent much of the prior evening munching and had left bare corn cobs and scrawny bits and pieces of vine that were formerly part of “the three sisters” planting. Haege told us that to prevent this very thing, the Lenape elders asked their children to sleep in the garden.
What so intrigued me about this project was thinking about Manhattan Island 400 years ago, when it was all old-growth forest except for the burning the Lenape did to force animals into a small area for hunting. To better understand the topography and planting conditions of the Lenape, Haege worked with Eric Sanderson, author of MANNAHATTA: A NATURAL HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY. In this volume, Sanderson and illustrator Markley Boyer reproduce digital images of the Island at the time of Hudson’s arrival. The changes that have taken place in only 400 years are nothing short of astounding. If you are as intrigued as I am, see the photo below and the fine video explaining The Mannahatta Project that is available on line.