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Growing Our Community

Published November 05, 2023


14 min read

"Growing Our Community" is a PPUABA initiative whose purpose is to grow our relationships through environmental activities that improve our community, lift our spirits and keep us grounded.

1. Our first rain gardens stewardship event was held Sat, Nov 4th, 1:00pm-3:00pm
The Growing Our Community initiative of PPUABA has been accepted by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection as a Tier II steward of the six raingardens on our PPUABA blocks.  This means we have more autonomy over the care of the raingardens e.g. planting, weeding, litter removal and watering. DEP, in turn, will refrain from pruning, weeding and removing plants. They will continue general maintenance as they have done previously. We received a PPUABA Grant in the spring to buy plants and they were purchased according to the DEP approved plant list for raingardens.

On Saturday, Nov 4th, a group of PPUABA neighbors came out with tools and plants to work on the raingardens. They removed rubbish and leaves, pruned existing plants where needed, planted new plants and bulbs, and left the rain gardens looking and functioning better! Many thanks to volunteers Adrian Gately, Marc Gordon, Michelle Lightfoot, Desiree Robertson, Heidi Rodewald, Elizabeth Welch, Rob Witherwax, and Growing Our Community coordinator Den Gordon. And thank you also to Judy Aley and Ruby Ranson, who were unable to come out on Nov 4th but have volunteered to plant and maintain the raingarden at 355 Park Place.

Below, photos of the event:
A "before" photo of the raingarden adjacent to 153 Underhill.
Before photo - adjacent to 153 Underhill

Rob Withwerwax planting in the raingarden at 386 Park.
Rob Witherwax

Adrian Gately clearing overgrowth from the raingarden at 384 Park.
Adrian Gately

Elizabeth Welch, Michelle Lightfoot, and GOC coordinator Den Gordon take a break while working on the raingarden adjacent to 153 Underhill.
Elizabeth Welch Michelle Lightfoot Den Gordon

A passerby and his daughter wanted to have a closer look at planting daffodil bulbs.
Planting daffodil bulbs with a young helper

An "after" photo of the raingarden at 384 Park Place.
After photo 384 Park

2. Our Fall 2023 clean-up was held Sunday Oct 15th, 10:00am-Noon
The rain cleared and we enjoyed nice weather to spruce up our blocks. We had a good turnout of neighbors to sweep and bag leaves, pick up trash, clear the overgrowth in our tree beds, and plant daffodil bulbs.

The resource table at 302 Park Place provided tools on loan, trash bags and daffodil bulbs. BigReuse also staffed a table, distributed information on curbside composting and gave out kitchen countertop compost bins and samples of compost made from NYC collected compostable food scraps.

Below, Growing Our Community coordinator Den Gordon and some of the 20 bags of daffodil bulbs which were distributed to neighbors (photo credit: Bruce McInnes). Fall cleanup Den and daffodil bulbs photo credit Bruce McInnes (cropped)

Hard-working neighbors Patti Veconi and Mary Hatch cleared out these overgrown tree beds and many others on the south side of Park Place (photo credit Christiana Dittman).
Fall clean up 01 photo credit Christiana Dittmann

1. Tree beds Cleaning, planting and mulching the 83 tree beds on PPUABA's 4 blocks.
2. Composting Educating our members about techniques and resources for both indoor and outdoor composting.
3. Vanderbilt Avenue median Weeding, planting and mulching the Vanderbilt Avenue median south of Park Place.
4. Rain Gardens Learning about and maintaining the rain gardens on PPUABA blocks. We have been accepted by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection as a Tier II steward of the six raingardens on our PPUABA blocks.  This means we have more autonomy over the care of the raingardens e.g. planting, weeding, litter removal and watering. The raingardens are all on Park Place: 333, 355, 397, 384, 386, and one adjacent to 153 Underhill. 
5. Friends of James Forten Playground A community-wide effort to help the Parks Department staff in the upkeep of our much-needed and beautiful playground. More information can be found on the Friends of James Forten Playground page on this website.

For more information about the Growing Our Community initiative, please contact the Growing Our Community coordinator, Den Gordon, at

1. Our 4th annual Plant Share was held June 3, 2023, 10:00am until Noon, in front of 302 Park Place
Neighbors brought plants and/or took plants (it's not necessary to bring a plant to take one). Neighbors contributed excess seedlings, cuttings and plants from their gardens, consulted with Growing Our Community coordinator Den Gordon about which plants might do best in their specific growing conditions, and took plants that met their needs. These Plant Share events are a great way to spread the joy of gardening and enable neighbors to connect!

2. [RAINED OUT! (sigh)] Our Spring 2023 clean-up is scheduled for Sat, Apr 29, 10:00am - Noon!
We'll be cutting down unwanted growth in the tree beds, cleaning up litter, sweeping our sidewalks and disposing of spotted lantern fly eggs. Let's have the cleanest blocks in readiness for our Block Party which is happening the following week on Saturday, May 6th!!

There will be a station set up in front of 302 Park Place where you can borrow tools, pick up a garbage bag, pick up and fill out a pre-order form for plants to purchase at our Annual Block Party, and last but not least have a coffee and pastry with your neighbors. There are enough flexible people on our blocks to get into the tree beds with the construction protections so don’t worry about that. There will be captains on each block to support your work. If you would like to be a captain please get in touch –

PPUABA spring clean-up flyer 2023-04-29

1. Sat, Nov 19th 2022 - Vanderbilt Avenue Median Cleanup
Growing Our Community coordinator Den Gordon along with neighbor Adrian Gately cleaned the Vanderbilt Avenue median just south of Park Place and planted daffodil bulbs donated by The Daffodil Project there.

When they arrived at the median, the rosa rugosa planted in Fall 2020 was healthy and vibrant, and the median appeared to be covered with a layer of fallen leaves. But, as Den describes it, "When we started clearing the leaves, it was like an archaeological excavation. There were bottles, papers, plastic takeout containers, pieces of orange mesh fencing and other construction debris, crushed soda cans and more buried under those leaves."
2022-11-19 medians 01 before starting

Below, Den and Adrian can be seen peeking out from behind the construction fencing, clearing the last bits of trash from the median.
2022-11-19 medians 02 clearing last of trash

Before they could even begin planting bulbs, Den and Adrian had filled 4 large trash bags with detritus removed from the median.
2022-11-19 medians 03 4 bags of trash

And now, the process of planting the daffodil bulbs could begin. Below, just some of the 250 bulbs Adrian and Den planted.
2022-11-19 medians 04 some of the 250 bulbs planted

Here's Adrian digging in some of the bulbs.
2022-11-19 medians 05 Adrian digging in some bulbs

Nearly finished now, Adrian and Den continued working in the median, partially obscured by the construction fencing.
2022-11-19 medians 06 nearly done

The daffodil bulbs, donated by The Daffodil Project, will bloom in the spring and bring some cheerful color from behind the construction fencing. Hopefully, the water and sewer main replacement project will be finished by the end of 2023; the construction fencing will come down; and afterwards we'll get to see the daffodils unobstructed, in their full glory!
2022-11-19 medians 07 Daffodil Project

2. Our 2022 Fall Cleanup was held on Sat, Nov 5th.
Coordinated by Den Gordon and assisted by block captains Robin Ketchum, Rachel Troy and Patti Veconi, neighbors cut down unwanted growth and cleaned trash from the tree beds; swept sidewalks; bagged leaves and trash (separately); scouted for and killed spotted lantern flies and their eggs; and planted daffodil bulbs in tree beds and front courtyards.

An information station set up in front of 302 Park Place provided tools to be borrowed, information about spotted lantern flies, trash bags, leaf bags and distribution of daffodil bulbs.

By the end of the event, together we had collected many bags of trash, planted over 1,000 daffodil bulbs, and filled 15 large leaf bags (which Den and Marc Gordon brought to the Prospect Heights Community Farm where volunteers enthusiastically accepted the leaves for composting).

We look forward to the bursts of colorful daffodils next spring! See photos of the event below.

Marc staffed the information table - loaning tools, distributing daffodil bulbs, and providing information, while PPUABA Treasurer Ed collected membership contributions from several households.
01 Marc staffed the info table with tools info bulbs and Ed collected member contributions

Rick posed with his tools of the trade - a leaf blower, broom and dustbin
03 Rick with leaf blower and broom cropped

Geno and his daughter made a clean sweep!
04 a clean sweep

Dee resting after sweeping her sidewalk
02 Dee resting after sweeping her sidewalk

Rachel planting daffodil bulbs. 05 Rachel planting daffodil bulbs cropped

Park Place's own "Johhny Appleseeds" Mike and Dewi, assisted by block captain Patti, planted LOTS of daffodil bulbs in many of the tree beds on Park Place between Underhill and Washington, and filled several large leaf bags.
06 Mike and Dewi assisted by block captain Patti planted LOTS of daffodil bulbs and filled many leaf bags cropped

These are just some of the 15 bags of leaves collected and brought to the Prospect Heights Community Farm for composting.
07 Some of the 15 bags of leaves collected and brought to PHCF for composting

3. Our third annual Plant Share was held June 4, 2022 in conjunction with our spring multi-block stoop sales.
Neighbors brought plants and/or took plants (it wasn't necessary to bring a plant to take one). Neighbors contributed excess seedlings, cuttings and plants from their gardens, consulted with Growing Our Community coordinator Den Gordon about which plants might do best in their specific growing conditions, and took plants that met their needs. These Plant Share events are a great way to spread the joy of gardening and enabling neighbors to connect!

4. Our May 7th 2022 plant sale
Even though our block party was rained out, with the help of Growing Our Community coordinator Den Gordon along with Robin Ketchum and a group of stalwart volunteers, the plant sale still happened! Den had taken pre-orders from many neighbors for the plants they wanted, had purchased them, and they needed to be picked up or delivered! So, working in the pouring rain, Den and the team of volunteers made it happen! See a photo of the event on the PPUABA Block Parties page, here.

5. In our Apr 20, 2022 monthly block association meeting, our featured speaker was Katherine Patton, a long-term volunteer with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Ms. Patton, who holds a Certificate of Horticulture and is a graduate of BBG's Brooklyn Urban Gardener program, discussed how to choose plants for window boxes, containers and tree beds.

Ms. Patton also provided several useful publications of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden which relate to the topics of her talk: Window boxes
- All About Window Boxes
- Securing Window Boxes
Tree Beds and Rain Gardens
- Plants for Tree Beds
- Street Tree Bed Care
- Native Plants for NYC Rain Gardens
- Testing Your Soil
- Using Mulch

6. In our January 19, 2022 monthly block association meeting, our featured speaker was Allie Gumas, DSNY's Manager of Drop-off Composting and Outreach Coordinator for Curbside Composting. You can view Ms. Gumas' presentation slides and listen to the audio of her presentation here.

1. In Spring and Fall 2021, most of Growing Our Community's focus was on activities to weed, clean, plant and organize activities for kids in the James Forten Playground.
Please see the Friends of James Forten Playground page on this website for more information.

2. Sat, Oct 17, 2020 PPUABA-wide street tree bed clean-up
The weather showed us some love, and PPUABA residents showed our street tree beds some love too. We had a great turnout! The ambitious goal was to clean, weed, aerate the soil, plant bulbs or plants and mulch as many of the 83 tree beds lining our blocks as possible.

Dozens of neighbors came out to work on tree beds in front of their own building, to volunteer to work on their neighbors' tree beds, or to help with logistics and coordination.

Growing Our Community coordinator Den Gordon did a fantastic job of planning the event and her team of "block captains" Mary Hatch and Robin Ketchum ensured that all the volunteers had the resources they needed (tools, mulch, trash bags, gloves, and bulbs) to improve the tree beds. And perhaps even more importantly, it was a great opportunity for neighbors to get out of the house on a gorgeous day and work on a project together - strengthening our neighborly relationships is what "Growing Our Community" is all about!

Below are some photos of the day's events.

The Parks Department delivered an imposing looking pile of mulch - would we really use it all?
Tree beds 002

Providing community involvement opportunities for all ages!
Tree beds 030

A family getting ready to start on their tree bed. Tree beds 030-a

Our "mulch delivery team" kept the mulch coming!
Tree beds 034 cropped

Which tool works best for the job? Tree beds 001-a

Daffodils or crocus - tough choice... maybe get both? Tree beds 036

Hard at work on the upper block of Park Place... Tree beds 037

...And hard at work on the lower block of Park Place! Tree beds 001

The result of hard work - a finished tree bed for the majestic tree on Underhill Avenue.
Tree beds 037b

This tree bed has looked lovely all summer and didn't need any attention. Tree beds 038

The resource table provided loaner tools from the Dept of Sanitation and PHNDC, as well as literature, gloves, and bulbs for sale.
Tree beds 039

The tree bed clean-up was a family-friendly affair. Tree beds 040

This family took a short break to pose for a photo op. Tree beds 041

Evidence of a successful clean-up - 20 bags of weeds and trash. Tree beds 999

3. On Sep 30, 2020, we learned about indoor composting from master composter, Sigrun Saphire, at our "Meet Your Neighbors” event. Here's a story about the indoor composting experiences of the Moustafa family, originally published in PPUABA's Nov 2020 newsletter.
Moustafa worm bin story

Here’s the book that Sigrun recommended to learn about composting - Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

4. Sep 27, 2020 Vanderbilt Avenue Median clean-up and planting
We cleared weeds and trash from the Vanderbilt Avenue Median (between Park Place and Sterling Place) and planted roses there. Below, some before, during and after photos of the event. "Before" - weeds and trash in the median strip Medians - 1 weeds and trash

"During" - Volunteers clear the overgrowth and plant roses in the median
Medians - 2 volunteers planting roses cropped

"After" - 6 new rose bushes planted and settling in to the median strip Medians - 3 roses planted Medians - 4 Rosa Rugosa sign

Smart composting bins come to Prospect Heights!
In Jan 2023, DSNY installed "smart composting bins" throughout the city, including 9 in our Prospect Heights neighborhood. One of those is right at the center of our block association's footprint, on the northeast corner of Park Place and Underhill Avenue! Here's a map showing all the currently installed Prospect Heights smart composting bin locations.

Smart composting bins accept a wide range of compostable material: - Food scraps: fruit, vegetables, meat, bones, dairy, prepared foods - Food soiled paper: napkins, towels, tea bags, plates, coffee filters - Plant waste: flowers, plants
And, the use of bags is allowed and encouraged to reduce mess. Paper, compostable and plastic bags are all acceptable.

To use a smart composting bin, first download the free NYC Compost app onto your Android or Apple phone. The app will tell you which bins are available (e.g. have room left) and you use the app to unlock the bin. (Keeping the bins locked reduces vandalism and casual disposal of non-compostable trash).

These bins make composting easy - and reducing food waste from our regular trash will go a long way to reducing the rat population in our neighborhood!

In addition to the "Smart Composting" bins installed in Prospect Heights in January 2023, there are three food scrap drop-off sites run by GrowNYC near the PPUABA blocks in Prospect Heights:

  • Thursdays 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at Park Place and Carlton Avenue.
  • Thursdays 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Eastern Parkway and Franklin Ave.
  • Saturdays 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket.

You can find a map showing all food scrap drop-off sites here.

Note that these drop-off sites have a more limited list of materials accepted for drop-off than the smart composting bins. Following are the accepted and not accepted materials:

  • Accepted Materials: fruit & vegetable scraps, non-greasy food scraps (rice, pasta, bread, grains, cereal), coffee grounds & filters, tea bags, egg shells & nuts, cut flowers & houseplants, soiled brown paper products, potting soil.
  • Not Accepted: meat, fish, bones, dairy, fat, oil, greasy food scraps, animal waste, charcoal, coconuts, insect-infested plants, plastics, twist ties, rubber bands, or receipts.

The Prospect Heights Community Farm (located at 252 St Marks Avenue between Vanderbilt and Underhill Avenues also accepts food scraps for composting. Check their website for dates, times and accepted materials.

If you choose to compost in your own back garden please go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden site for comprehensive information here or go to this DSNY site for home composting information.

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