History of La Perla Community Garden

In the early 90s New York City looked different from the way it appears today. Some transformations are major and attract tourists each year such as the wonderful High Line downtown. Other changes are smaller but no less compelling. The creation of La Perla community garden on the Upper West Side is one of those small but important transformations.

In 1992 a rubble strewn empty lot approximately 50’ x 100’ with an ugly chain link fence stood on Columbus Avenue and West 105th. With the help of the city and various community agencies, a group of dedicated individuals converted the ugly, abandoned space into what is now a green oasis called La Perla community garden. Founding President, Sue Schmidt took the name “La Perla” from a vibrant neighborhood in Puerto Rico that despite a violent history became a colorful and politically active haven for its residents. Like its namesake, La Perla was born from a fractured and sometimes violent neighborhood with its share of drug dealing and crime and gave rise to a community with a sense of pride and cross cultural cooperation.

It took several tons of earth, a landscape garden designer and a number of willing helpers to shape the garden that exists today. Shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness and ability to survive a harsh urban climate. A beautiful iron work fence replaced the ugly chain link enclosure. A little later, a water tank was installed to catch the rain water making trips to the fire hydrant unnecessary. Where there was trash and piles of broken bricks now grow Asian pear and peach trees, lilac bushes, heirloom lilies and peonies. Different species of birds and butterflies are frequent visitors and members grow tomatoes, peppers, beans and a host of other fresh vegetables.

Over the years La Perla has become a place to celebrate birthdays and weddings, bring children to dig for worms and plant seeds. It is a place to listen to music on a Sunday afternoon or take in a talk on the benefits of composting or how to look after perennials. Schoolchildren have contributed brightly colored murals that dot the walls and structures. A well designed compost system sits in the corner of the garden that is used by the locals and tended by a long time member.

The benefits of green spaces whether they are grand like Central Park or Prospect Park, or small like the many community gardens that dot the landscape of New York, are unquestionable and cannot be measured only in dollars. These small pockets of green relieve the relentless grind and noise of urban living and redress the imbalance that city living induces. Help us preserve what it took decades to build. La Perla garden is still evolving and changing. It will never stop growing and providing green relief as long as there are people to tend it and care for it.