Mister D: Penny wrote in to tell us that there was an interview with Maggie on the editorial page of today’s NYT’s. Of course, Bette and Prez Clinton were discussed…and the party in Maggie’s honor. Penny was one of the lucky ones that attended. Anyway, thanks to Penny for the tip!
March 29, 2005
THE CITY LIFE
Street Gardening With Maggie and Bette
By FRANCIS X. CLINES
When the two-fisted singer Bette Midler took on Rudolph Giuliani six years ago, rescuing scores of flourishing street gardens from the City Hall auctioneer’s gavel, happy community groups were entitled to write their good fortune off to a passing touch of noblesse oblige. But it turns out the Divine Miss M is in it for the long run.
“Oh no, Ms. Midler don’t mind coming back, getting down and dirty with me – brings her own tools,” said Maggie Burnett, one of the city’s legendary street gardeners, who tills a narrow, vacant-lot parcel on West 149th Street, just off Broadway.
Having fought off addicts and aphids for three decades, Ms. Burnett watched in desperation as the Giuliani administration put her verdant patch of squatter’s land up for sale in 1999. There was similar gloom across leafy swatches in the five boroughs. But Ms. Midler strode in at the last minute, buying up dozens of endangered neighborhood gardens through a rescue organization she calls the New York Restoration Project.
The singer put extra money into upgrading the 149th Street plot, officially named it Maggie’s Garden, appointed Ms. Burnett the manager, and even showed up with President Bill Clinton for a dedication. “That was one wonderful day,” said Ms. Burnett, whose enduring gratitude is lately mixed with a determination to find spring.
“Tomatoes,” she recited, anticipating her growing season. “Beans, green peppers, bell peppers, collard greens.” Ms. Burnett continued through an urban cornucopia that seemed pure fantasy as she stood amid the dregs of a perverse spring snowfall. The bare sign of vernal possibilities on the street was a twittering couple of birds confidently bolstering a nest inside the hollow cross pipe of a street lamp above the snaking traffic of Broadway.
But Ms. Burnett could see well beyond to another growing season. “We’ll soon be turning the soil,” she promised. Her faith in the earth is particularly poignant for being ringed by a relentless horizon of asphalt and walk-up flats. Ms. Midler’s restoration group is driving all manner of city improvements, from large-scale resurrection of waterfront tracts to spectacular turnarounds in public parks like Fort Tryon. But the humbler squatter’s gardens now preserved into perpetuity are the ultimate sights for sore eyes.
Mr. Giuliani may have been dubbed America’s Mayor, but hardly on West 149th. There reigns Ms. Burnett, invoking Bette Midler for another harvest. “She does come to visit her garden,” Maggie the manager said with great satisfaction of Bette the singer.