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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Long Islanders prose to the challenge: Meet the 2019 Garden Poetry Contest winners

JR Turek in the garden outside her home,

JR Turek in the garden outside her home, Sunday, June 9, 2019. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

In May, I invited readers to express through poetry the kindness they've received — or sown themselves — through their gardens. Many took the task to heart, pondered what it means to be a good neighbor, and nearly 100 put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) to send their original poetry about paying forward or receiving gardening kindness.

Some wrote of feeding their neighbors; others, of being fed. Some told of planting a tiny plot, while others relayed tales of beautifying their community. Although the stories shared are varied, they all impart the feeling that keeps most gardeners' hands in the dirt: Appreciation. 

Newsday readers have been entering the Garden Detective Poetry Contest for 11 years, each time with a different theme. As I read through this year's entries, it was apparent they overwhelmingly conveyed sentimental tones. Perhaps they were there all along; we just needed to be reminded to stop and smell the roses (and taste the tomatoes!).

Here are this year's winners and runners up. The best of the rest can be found at newsday.com/jessicadamiano. Congratulations to all!

Winner

Taking first place this year is J.R. Turek of East Meadow. Turek will receive a copy of “Design Your Garden Toolkit: Visualize the Perfect Plant Combinations for Your Yard,” by Michelle Gervais (complete with trifold design board and reusable cling stickers).

FILLING IN KINDNESS

 J.R. Turek, East Meadow

My neighbor had a hole in his heart

since his beloved wife passed away,

and a bare patch in his front garden. I split

my iris bulbs, planted them there and George

and his garden blossomed. He’s gone now

but through a space in the hedges, I see

purple flowers still blooming with love.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

THE TREE THAT NEEDED TO BE

Barbara J. Minerd, Halesite

Beside my curb I placed a tree.

Adorned with a sign, “Please Plant Me!”

In moments a vehicle came to a screech.

A lady jumped out with an utter of glee.

“I LOVE IT!” she cried as she claimed my good deed.

Oh, tiny tree that grew from wild seed,

where will you live with this lady of need?

WAY BACK WHEN

Lillian Moleti, St. James

In our tiny backyard came great gifts from God & our family was thankfully fed

In Depression & WWII so many grew much more than our Daily Bread

Green thumbs dug in our tiny small space  and neat rows of veggies arose with His grace.

Sad days were over — we planted anew, now a garden of floral all pinks, gold & blue.

Our old victory garden blessed us again, this time regrowth — with a glorious view

We had given dear neighbors excess of our food, now we gave flowers in lighthearted mood.

RUNNERS-UP 

COMMUNITY

Marc Kadushin, Plainview

Aged hands can’t till the soil.

Neighbor’s kid helps with the toil.

Pulling weeds, planting seeds.

Tending to the garden’s needs.

In the dirt they bridge the years.

Wisdom passed to younger ears.

SHARING

Marvin Illman, Woodmere
Red and yellow tulips down the cemetery row;
Joe said, “It’s Mother’s Day.
"My Emilia didn’t make it.
"Her favorite colors were red and yellow.
"The women’s graves get the tulips from my garden.”
On Father’s Day I laid my garden’s red and yellow roses
On Emilia’s grave.

HOLTSVILLE HAL’S PAL

Kelly Young, Holtsville

Young penned this poem in honor of her neighbor. She writes: "For the past 15 years one of my neighbors, Wayne Carrington, has tended the gardens and 'Welcome to Holtsville' sign on the south LIE service road, just east of Exit 62 on the corner of Washington Avenue. One day, while tending the garden, he was hit by a car. After a long recovery, he is right back at it. I wanted to show some appreciation. He is very involved with Groundhog Day and is often spotted wearing a big black hat with Holtsville Hal [on it] — thus the title."

Though danger lurks around the bend midst defiant daisies and weeds to tend

He cultivates the seed and soil to welcome folks at days' end toil.

Myriad cuttings abound with care against the tire tracks that dare.

From out of bounds comes metal intruder to take our host off his rounds.

Now recovered from sower’s plight, grounds compassion persists absent fright

To tend the salute to our street, for no extraordinary garden is ever complete.

In mulch admiration I write this hymn in praise of selfless roots of appreciation.

BEST OF THE REST

SOMETHING IS MISSING

Kathy Levine, Long Beach

Someone stole one of my tomatoes last night. I was planning to pick it today.

The thief must have sneaked in my garden. I cursed out loud; it blew me away.

A few days later I spotted the culprit: A gray-haired lady wearing one sock.

She admitted her hunger got the best of her, then offered me fifty cents in a box.

Her smile reminded me of a lesson I'd learned years ago from my mother:

If you want to savor what brings you joy, begin by sharing it with others.

MY GARDENEIGHBOR

Susan O'Byrne, Baldwin

Instead of a blighted cement view

My gardeneighbor planted hydrangeas of blue.

Their perfume wafts into my window.

Their petals cover my path like snow.

Their cuttings decorate my table

In a vase that one could label

A trophy for the beauty my gardeneighbor sowed.

SQUASH COMING OUT OF OUR EARS

 Myra M. Lavine, Wantagh

After World War II, Long Island became invaded by first-time homeowners.

Our neighbor made a huge vegetable garden in his barren backyard.

That summer, green squash was in abundance.

On a beautiful fall morning, we all woke up

to plastic bags full of squash hanging from the doorknobs with several recipes to enjoy.

Soon after, we met and, giggling, presented our generous gardener with all sorts of cooked squash.

FREE VERSE

 Alessandro J. Veralli, Copiague

Just moved into my new home

Garden is bare, too late in season to plant

Doorbell rings, don't know anyone yet?

I open the door, people with baskets in hand

"We are your neighbors, these are for you, welcome!"

Fruits and vegetables from their gardens

I'm moved and can only say, "thank you."

MANGIA BENE

Diane Barker, North Massapequa

Son of Italian immigrants and the Great Depression

Pop-Pop never wasted or squandered anything, especially land

On a small 6-by-6-foot garden plot in Bethpage, he grew

tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, string beans and herbs

cultivated with special care and love to ensure a plentiful harvest

Bounty of food for family and friends, shared with honor

from the son of immigrants, a Depression, and Mother Earth

TIME FLIES

Eileen Blanchard, Ronkonkoma

I was young with little dough,

but had a dream to make things grow.

Friends gave me phlox, divided their lilies,

Hosta and daisies made me silly.

Now I'm the old lady, sharing my bounty.

My plants are spread throughout the county.

APPLE PICKING

Helene Hahn, Bellmore

I once picked an apple off a tree,

A tree that didn’t belong to me.

Although a delicious but errant deed,

I felt no guilt and kept the seed.

These I planted and carefully nurtured,

Now I pick from my very own orchard.

A NOTE TO MY NEIGHBORS, AFTER THE HARVEST

Eileen Melia Hession, Long Beach

Tomatoes by the dozen,

Zucchini by the score,

Sauce and salad, bread and fritters,

We can’t eat anymore.

(That’s why I left a bag of produce,

Right outside your door.)

Signed, Anonymous

BLOSSOMING

Irma Souveroff, Baldwin

Well, I was a young widow, then: hardworking but still poor.

A neighbor, Matt, grew vegetables and left them at my door.

I thanked him with the dinners that we shared as friend with friend,

Yet gazed out at the daffodils he’d never thought to send.

But sharing brought us closer, until finally I knew

What he’d ask me in the garden — and the day smiled, bright and blue.

GRANDMA’S GARDENING KINDNESS

Kevin Biggiani, Oyster Bay
I was barely a tween when Grandma began lovingly
Sharing with me her knowledge of all things green.
Like soaking seeds first, and worms are friends,
What to plant where and when to start all over again.
Sadly, Grandma is gone now, to the garden up above,
But the gardening kindness and seeds of knowledge
She planted in me still thrive from her love.

PAYING IT FORWARD

Terri Donahue, Center Moriches
As a fledgling homeowner, my neighbor,
Whose yard was a Botanical show
Imparted her Gardener’s Thumb of Knowledge
About fertilizers, plants, armed with edger and hoe
Shared cuttings, shopped for flowers and shrubs
Taught me “what,” “where,” and “how” to grow
Now I cultivate that love with grandkids, teaching them to sow.

GREEN GIFT

Rosemary McKinley, Southold
A new home, a clean garden slate
family came to the rescue
donations of green and white hostas, vibrant pink lilies
deep purple, yellow and pink irises
white and lavender lilacs
brightening our garden
Each new season, reminders of our family's gracious gift.

HAIKU

Judi Weissman, Kings Park
Picked from my garden,
Brightened his hospital room.
His smile a blossom.

UNTITLED

Laura Schimmenti, Selden
My neighbor's Blacked Eyed Susans spreading under my fence to my flower bed.
Some may think this doesn't make sense.
To me it makes perfect sense, they are happy and know where to grow.
I enjoy them so, with their yellow flowers and black centers.
My neighbor comes over to visit them, we call it our shared garden!

IT'S TIME TO PLANT THE SEEDS

Susan Marie Davniero, Lindenhurst

It’s time to plant the seeds

Springtime garden has needs

I like to spread seeds around

Giving seeds for the ground

Attach with a Palm Cross

It is just because

With the good word reason

To welcome the season

STRAWBERRY PLANTS

Ira Frenkel, Plainview
Got some strawberry plants from my neighbor
Received them early and planted them later
Some water and sun to help them grow
Hoping for strawberries this summer, you know!

UNTITLED

Bonnie Hersch, Old Bethpage

Barren slabs of dirt —
Then Krista painted life!
Garden filled with glee.

PLANT MULTIPLICATION

Bonnie Campbell, Wantagh
Mums are creeping into the lawn.
Wisteria and holly are growing under the mugo pine
where they don't belong.
White violets spread throughout the beds
crowding out purple lamia and pink phlox.
My trowel and soil-filled pots to the rescue.
Thanks to good friends who adopt the invaders.

A SIMPLE KINDNESS

Carmela Dolce, Medford
With kindness
and a mound of soil
in her cupped hands
she offered the soil to me.
Gratefully, ever since,
her lilies of the valley
nourish my soul in Spring.

GARDENING, KINDNESS AND MY DAD

Adrienne Wilber, Holtsville
My Dad shows his kindness by sharing his love of gardening with me.
He often gives me gifts in the form of plants, flowers and even trees.
In the Winter he will force hyacinths to bloom and give me a pot of them that make the house smell sweet.
In the Summer he will cut roses from his garden and make bouquets for me that can’t be beat.

UNTITLED

Florence Gatto, Bellmore
Seeds, water and sun
My garden is organic
My father taught me
Plants from my garden
Are edible and fragrant
All the summer long

WE SHARE

Narges Rothermel, Levittown
He is master pastry chef at a nearby bakery, and he is our next door neighbor.
My family has been fortunate to enjoy some of his masterpieces, delicious cakes.
Yes, he is the baker but he loves my daughter’s homemade cookies.
When my daughter does some baking she makes sure he gets some.
And all I can share is what I gather from my garden,
He and his wife love my homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers.

ACT OF FAITH

Donald E. Allen, Amity Harbor
Why do we work so hard in the dirt?
Planting a garden is the ultimate act of faith.
How is that so?
We believe the good earth shall bring forth
great sustenance from tiny seeds.
Why do you give so much of your harvest away?
Giving from our bounty is our act of faith fulfilled.

A TANKA
Haiku Variation, as Such, Untitled

Lloyd Abrams, Freeport

cannas and lilies
hostas and irises
time to divide them
we shared rhizomes with neighbors
and embellished our world

ODE TO LARRY

Jane Shelley, Wantagh
A horticultural guru lives on my street,
His gardening wisdom can't be beat!
Not just sage advice does he share,
But also his healthy seedlings he's grown with care.
And when my gardening friend is on vacay,
I tend to his plants with the hope, that,
Alive and well they'll happily stay!

UNTITLED

Timothy Busam, Northport

It's just dirt, water, sun,
for me, it's all fun.
Planting for family and friends,
my gardening never ends.
More to do, gotta run.

NATURE'S ENDLESS BOUNTY

Diane Sciacchitano, North Massapequa
A garden gives pleasure
A good neighbor's a treasure
Sharing together with love

UNTITLED

Irene Bradley, Holtsville
Our vegetable garden outside the bedroom window,
Has shade, then becomes sunny,
It is visited most often by bees and by a bunny.
As the vegetables start growing our neighbor’s interest begins to pique,
We ask them very kindly, which veggies do you seek?
We share our wealth of veggies and talk about the taste,
Sharing prevents the crops from ever going to waste.

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