By Jonathan Landsman
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Almost exactly two years ago, I met Grace Gutman, the volunteer with the Promenade Partnership who has the most relentless hand for weed pulling and most years of life experience. “I came to plant pretty things for the spring,” was how she greeted me then.
I know our meeting was two years ago because it is easy to mark time by garden work. We were planting bulbs that day, an autumn task that will begin anew very soon this year. Bulb planting, it turned out, was Grace’s favorite job.
“You anticipate the pleasure they’ll bring. It’s so glorious to go down and see them,” she said. Certainly spring, the time of our tulips and daffodils, is when I see the most cameras pointed at the gardens, including that of one local resident who took more than 300 photos of our bulbs last fall.
A daughter, Beth, gardens in Ohio and another, Ruth, works with Manhattan’s Carl Schurz Park Association, but Grace’s son was the first Gutman to settle in the borough. Oct. 7 was the 14th anniversary of Grace’s move to Brooklyn Heights to be closer to her oldest child, Hank, who has long served on the board of directors of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Back then, she says, “The promenade was lovely but I didn’t look at the gardens; it was just a nice place to walk.”
Having left behind a beloved home rock garden in New Jersey, Grace hoped for a way to include plants in her new life in Brooklyn. Her apartment search ended when she found enough living room space for a piano (Grace holds recitals) and a roof with a great view and large planters that she tended through summers. When the roof was renovated five years ago, away went the planters — a common story around the Heights and New York. That left her with no way to garden at all until three years later, when she joined the Promenade Partnership volunteers.
I love the work Grace does in the gardens. She creeps along and weeds so diligently that I even have a photo of her climbing under a thicket to pursue some small weeds. She comes to the garden in all seasons. She apologizes to me when she cannot come, as though I was her boss and gardening was her job. Grace first volunteered when she was 4 years old, serving a tray of dessert hors d’oeuvres at a gala for her parents’ educational non-profit. Today, when not at the promenade, she also works at the Women’s Exchange.
If you’d like to join Grace and our other volunteers to garden this fall, show up at 9 a.m. this Saturday or 9:30 a.m. any Tuesday at the Montague Street Promenade flagpole. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to be added to our mailing list.
Jonathan Landsman is a gardener with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s District 2, comprising the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and Borough Hall.