Places that Matter

Dias y Flores Community Garden

click on image for slideshow
Memorial poetry reading in Dias y Flores, 2012
Memorial poetry reading in Dias y Flores, 2012
Dias y Flores Mosaic by Bob Lasher
Musician jamming in the garden, 2012
Garden members tend to herbs, 2012
Sculpture and poetry personalize individual plots, 2012
East Village community garden in operation since 1978
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Place Matters Profile

Written by Molly Garfinkel for Place Matters

Nestled at the center of the quiet, tree-lined block of E. 13th Street between Avenues A and B, Dias y Flores Community Garden was founded in 1978, when the neighborhood felt and looked quite different. Since that time, development and gentrification have heavily impacted the East Village’s physical and cultural landscapes, but the Dias y Flores collective still reflects the neighborhood's long-celebrated multicultural, multi-generational character. Members hail from around the world and represent a wide range of cutural and interest groups; indeed, many say that their membership in Dias y Flores has fostered friendships with neighbors they might not have otherwise approached

Now entering its fourth decade of grassroots cultivation, Dias y Flores boasts a membership roster nearly 60 gardeners strong. Proximity of plot to table is the motivating factor for the majority of Dias y Flores gardeners, most of whom live within a few blocks of their harvests. However, you certainly don’t have to be an East Village resident to join up, and members who move away from the neighborhood often maintain their Dias y Flores subscriptions even if they no longer cultivate its garden beds. Despite the multi-year wait list for recieving an individual plot, newcomers from near and far enroll nearly every month.

However, members are forthcoming in suggesting that while the garden is inclusive and relatively egalitarian, it’s not utopia. Over the years the community has faced internal and external challenges, and its constituents have changed as new needs have been negotiated. Elders find the garden to be a mentally and physically stimulating retirement pasttime, while younger members appreciate Dias y Flores’ affordability ($10 for the year). Some members are seasoned horticulturalists while others had never put a trowel to the soil before joining Dias y Flores. Several long-time garden activists have found refuge at Dias y Flores after their previous gardens were demolished to make way for new development.

Today’s members say that the garden collective feels like a family, with all of the attendant tensions and competitions that rattle blood relatives. But they also note that they spend more time fighting for than with each other, and most of their energies are devoted to having good time and providing one another with support, laughter, and, of course, gardening advice. This response is perhaps not unique to Dias y Flores. As is the case with so many of New York City’s community gardens, Dias y Flores started out as a group of volunteers who wondered if they could improve their block by nurturing derelict lots back to health. Somewhere along the trajectory of thirty-four years of reclamation, cultivation, and political resistance, natural instincts kicked in and bound the diverse Dias y Flores gardeners together as a resilient family, one of many constituent tribes of a formidable New York City garden nation. Most of the current members have been involved in the garden for less than two decades, but they have fought protracted battles to protect Dias y Flores and the greater community garden movement. And as the struggle for citywide garden preservation continues, new members add fresh verve to the fight.