Jane Street Garden
BY BRIAN HEALEY
Created through the efforts of passionate neighbors nearly half a century ago, the Jane Street Garden continues to be sustained by volunteers and supporters who treasure this neighborhood gem. This season, they ensured the space was open to the public seven days a week from mid-April to October. Even better, the group is hosting a special cocktail party on September 30th.
The garden’s story begins in the early 1970s, when the original building on the site burned in a suspicious fire (at the time, its tenant was Spyro’s Deli, which later moved down the block to the West 12th Street corner. Residents led by Paula Feddersen, Dan Stewart, Jean Verral, Gladys Schroeder, Don Healy, Rachel Levinsohn, and others organized to transform the rubble-strewn lot into a community garden. Their efforts to haul out debris and add soil, seeds, and plantings turned an eyesore into a lovely amenity.
In 1975, a developer who later bought the lot ripped up the garden with the goal of constructing a four-story building. (Neighbors thought the owner, who had a record of shady dealings, was envisioning a brothel.) They organized to stop the construction—and the Jane Street Block Association ultimately succeeded in its efforts to lease the lot from the city to sustain the garden for the community.
A wooden windmill graced the garden from 1977 until the mid-’80s. Installed for the inaugural Nieuw Amsterdam Festival block party, the structure–whose blades rotated thanks to power jerry-rigged from a curbside street lamp—delighted passersby, especially children. The windmill was the backdrop to an especially memorable festival in 1982, when Mayor Ed Koch and Mayor Wim Polak attended, in celebration of the centuries-long links between New and Old Amsterdam.
In 1987, the West Village Committee took over the garden, under the passionate custodianship of William Bowser. In 2012, the garden officially became a New York City park through the GreenThumb program. In partnership with the city, neighbor and WVC president Michael Talbot oversaw its care, once again establishing public access to this special space. Thanks to funding by the city, a magnificent wrought-iron fence arrived in 2018 and replaced the aging chain link that had surrounded the garden since its first days.
A new crop of “Garden Guardians” has lately taken the baton, helping to collect litter, plant tulip bulbs, and keep this neighborhood treasure accessible to the public. Last year, Friends of Jane Street Garden was officially constituted, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to raising tax-deductible contributions toward the care of the garden.
This year, the volunteer team has been especially active. Paths have been fortified with an appealing new tan-colored gravel. An arborist has provided a full assessment of the health of the garden’s trees. (Prognosis? Great.) A new automatic irrigation system has kept the plantings healthier and more verdant than ever. The center island has been replanted with beautiful new specimens.
On September 30, the Friends will welcome supporters and neighbors at its annual fundraiser—to help ensure the garden remains open to all for the next half-century. Guests may win door prizes (donated by Ann Tremet Cakes, Gelateria Gentile, and Aux Merveilleux de Fred patisserie).
Local businesses sponsoring the event and the 2024 season include: Arthur & Sons, Art Bar, Barachou, Bonsignour, Cafe Cluny, Corner Bistro, Cursive, Manley’s The Old Yew Plant Shop, Saved, Tavern on Jane.
To learn more or purchase tickets to the September 30th party (starting at $25), please visit janestreetgarden.org.