Nyack Commmunity Garden

Interview with Wilsie Reese

Interview with Wilsie Reese

Wilsie Reese has been gardening in the Nyack Community Garden longer than almost anyone else. She couldn’t remember exactly what year she started, but she estimated it was around 1993. She was living on Byrd Street at the time and the president of the garden at the time, Mrs. Porter, noticed what lovely flowers she had planted around her house and suggested she join the Community Garden, so she did. (At that time, she remembers John Dunnigan and his mother being involved, too.) There was already a big fenced in space at that time and maybe around 40 gardeners altogether. The water supply was there, but no shed and no bench and no fencing around Nyack Brook, just to the east of the garden.

Wilsie remembers that everyone had the equivalent of a full plot; there were no 1⁄2 plots then, and everyone would start digging in the garden and come across railroad stakes all the time. (The garden is situated on top of what used to be the last stop of the Erie Railroad line.) And lots of rocks! (Somehow rocks grow better than anything else – is this only in Rockland County?). Because there was no fence around Nyack Brook, they would throw all the rocks into the brook.

Back then, you could grow sunflowers and corn, and many did – until they recognized that these plants did so well they would start shading other people’s veggies, so they devised the rule prohibiting us from choosing those plants to propagate. Wilsie herself started by growing what she considered to be the essentials - tomatoes, green beans and kale – and always some flowers. She has been growing those essentials ever since, although she has branched out and tried some other veggies over the years. Mostly she planted from seed; only her tomatoes, she would purchase the starter plants, and her youngest son would help her, especially with the weeding, and still does to this day. She was the proud winner of 2nd prize in one of the contests one of the years.

She told a couple of lovely stories of her experiences in the garden. She was still laughing at the memory of her son helping her harvest in the garden when he was about 15. He had come across the pepper plant that had beautiful, colorful, peppers beaconing to him. Before she could warn him, he popped one into his mouth and was totally shocked – it was an extra hot variety!

Another harvest that was a complete surprise and a complete joy all around was three years ago when, after always shying away from planting watermelons for so many years, she decided to try planting them. She bought 2 plants, and then someone else in the garden offered her 2 more plants. She made space for all 4, mounded them up, and lo and behold, they started growing well, maybe too well, because she had to clip some of the vines to keep them from overwhelming her neighbors’ plots and from growing right through the fence. But they yielded 4 absolutely perfect watermelons, which she shared with her daughter.

Her love of gardening began when she was a child (she is now 75) in central Virginia. Her father was the gardener of the vegetables and her mother tended the flowers, which she taught to Wilsie. They had peach and apple trees growing all around and Wilsie came to appreciate gardening and the connection to trees and nature. She moved to Rockland County in 1962 and always loved the hills and trees of this area. She always feels joy and relief when, after a trip into the City, she drives back over the bridge into the green hills of Rockland County. But to this day she cries when she sees a tree being chopped down.

This year, she says, wasn’t the best the in the garden. Because of the heat, but also because her son didn’t have time to help her too much and because she had lost a couple of dear friends this year. But she still loves the gardening. And she especially appreciates the addition of the bench. Now she can go in, tend to her garden and then go sit on the bench for a while, take in the whole ambiance, and rest a bit before going back to pulling the weeds. She loves how the community garden has always been a real community – people helping one another, sharing tips, sharing seeds, sharing what they harvest, sharing their enthusiasm and taking pride in what is growing.

Does she have any tips for new gardeners? “When you grow some of it yourself, you appreciate that farming is actually a lot of hard work, and it makes you think differently about the food you buy in the market and the farmer’s hard work that went into providing it for you.” But if you want to start gardening, “Enjoy it! Plant from seeds. Watch your seeds to see it all grow. It’s always good to be there – to get out there and feel the earth. You haven’t tasted a tomato until you have picked it and eaten it then and there, right off the vine. And the fresh green beans, you’ve gotta taste one of those!”

Kathy Schwarz

This article is taken from the Newsletter October-November 2018