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Garden poetry contest 2018: Long Island green-thumbed readers sow joy

Helga K. Breen of Riverhead holds a bouquet

Helga K. Breen of Riverhead holds a bouquet of fresh cut flowers from her garden on Friday, June 28, 2018. Credit: Randee Daddona

Of course you know plant, bug and bird.

So I asked you to send me your word.

Your efforts, no doubt, ensure you won’t do without

Because you can sow, reap and herd.

In May, I asked readers to craft an original poem describing how and why they practice self-sufficiency around the home and garden, and they did not disappoint: Nearly 80 poems filled my mailboxes, including a couple penned by young gardeners. Some are funny, others heartfelt — and all will plant a seed of joy in your heart.

Helga Breen of Riverhead gets top honors for “My Little Garden,” her biographical verse describing growing up in war-torn Germany, where sustainability was less a choice than a means of survival.

“My brothers and I were always hungry,” Breen recalls. “Mother gave each of us a small patch of garden, which she had to beg from a nearby farmer. The little gardens became our pride and joy. Our homegrown fruits and vegetables truly helped to sustain us. It instilled in us the joy of gardening, which has over the years become a lifelong hobby,” she writes. “I honestly believe that it was the best gift our mother ever gave us.”

Helga Breen, Riverhead

My Little Garden

It was in Europe in 1944, when as a tot of six and no more,

My mother taught me to plant, seed and how to use a hoe.

I grew what I most liked to eat,

Which were carrots, sprouts and sweet peas.

My little garden helped me to grow

and fostered an interest, I’m happy to say

is my absolute delight to this very day.


Jane Shelley, Wantagh


I enjoy growing herbs near my door,

Their gathering is never a chore.

Aromatic they are,

Delicious by far,

Plus, convenient, no trip to the store!

J.R. Turek, East Meadow


It was the spring of the romaine scare – toxic lettuce!

Beware where you buy, country of origin, trust nothing,

avoid romaine lettuce, and we did. Got accustomed to the

nothingness of iceberg, the tang of dandelions, the bitterness

of spring greens, and planting time changed everything. Now,

the scare a distant headline, we harvest our own romaine, no

fear of poisoning, trust the country of origin: our own garden.

Tammy Green, Huntington

The Deck Garden

The pleasure of the gem at hand,

The fruit I grow,

The homemade jam,

The challenge to bring forth from earth,

The stalk of corn, the bean well worth,

Abjuring any pesticide,

That is the law I do abide.

Charlotte Hoffman, Uniondale

Mixed Blessing

It’s spring, and as I survey my lawn, my neighbor comes to chat.

“I got somethin’ that’ll get ridda them dandylions for ya.”

Then shakes his head when I decline his offer of killer toxins.

Months later on an icy winter day, I think of him

As I sip a pale, sweet wine and seem to smell green grass

All from the tiny yellow suns I didn’t “get ridda.”

Barbara J. Minerd, Halesite

Agrarian Society’s Tongue

There once lived a tongue who loved peas.

He grew them from seed with great ease.

So he planted more crops

to harvest nonstop.

Now he lives without produce store needs.


Bernice Busch, Oceanside

My Bouquet of Flowers

In the garden of my heart

Many friendships have I grown.

Sadness and joy helped them to be sown.

As the air I exhale disappears without traces

Their presence is gone, but I still see their faces.

Laughter and sorrow were for them so real.

How do I express the sadness I feel.

The souls of the universe reach out to embrace

The flowers of my garden who are in a new place.

I am left with beauty in mind and heart

All things living eventually depart.

Krystyna Reckner, Melville

Race the Sun

Wake up when it’s dark and make the coffee.

Care for the animals and get the equipment out.

Hurry to the field, you’re running out of time.

The day hasn’t even started, and you’re already rushing.

The sky starts lightening even though you can’t see the sun yet.

Cut your flowers now, quickly, quickly!

The sun is going to rise and its heat will be everywhere.

Helene Hahn, Bellmore

Backyard Farming

I work the earth of my small garden, dark and moist, squiggly with worms.

Last year’s seeds are sown; store bought plants are bedded.

I wait for new leaves to sprout and tiny seedlings to push through.

Then begins the watering, pinching, thinning; and weeding, always weeding.

I wait again for the delicious moment when my modest crop is harvested.

Fresh vegetables are savored; jars of tomatoes, relish and pickles stored on shelves.

I carefully save seeds for next year, to begin the cycle anew.

Marvin Illman, Woodmere


Tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans I grew

Delicious, nutritious, and much cheaper, too.

Aesthetically pleasing are colors galore

Filling my heart and my vegetable store

Even though produce results from your toil.

Gardening is good for your body and soil.

Domenick Graziani, Babylon

Turn Over (For Dad)

It’s when I grab the shovel and dig

To turn over the dirt in springtime

I feel you closest to me; recalling sweat dripping from your nose.

I can hire the kid down the street, rent a machine.

But I choose to don the old gloves and

Press my shoe to shovel’s shoulder

Cleaving clumps of weeds from renewed earth.

Anne Butler, Oceanside


Winter came early and never left

I ache for spring’s rebirth.

Slender shoots of crocus, hyacinth and daffodil pierce through the hard-packed earth.

The sun breaks through winter clouds and warms.

I dream of planting tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and red and green peppers.

I break my foot.

Maybe cherry tomatoes, trellising in a pot on my deck.

Robert Savino, West Islip

The Reason I Grow a Garden

The fruit of trees appeared to bow to him.

Vegetables were as grand as a farmer’s stand.

The produce man tipped his hat when they passed in the street.

The inside band of grandfather’s straw hat would be saturated

in sweat when we returned back to the house.

The short Italian man stood tall … and me,

it was the only time I was allowed to play in dirt.

Margarette Wahl, Massapequa


The first few times stung me by surprise.

Later I blew up into a balloon of reactions

by their piercing presence.

Now I welcome their abrupt buzzing sounds toward me

whizzing by my zinnias, marigolds, and daisies.

Local honey’s a sweet remedy for my seasonal allergies.

Planting pays homage to bees.

Marlene DiMartino, Islip

Grandpa’s Symbol

Grandpa came to America at only 23, and with him came the seeds for our lucky fig tree

Grandpa bought a house at only 33, and with his love he planted our lucky fig tree

Grandpa passed away at only 63, but the roots and limbs still grew on our lucky fig tree

We moved into Grandpa’s house in 1983 and reaped and sowed the fruits of our lucky fig tree

Each year we share a sweet with the family that grew from the branches of our lucky fig tree

We smile, we laugh, we feel fulfilled, and we all agree

that the symbol of our family is our lucky fig tree.

Terri Donahue, Center Moriches


Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Turn your garden into a sustainable table

Rich of vegetables sweeter than any store-bought product.

Teach the children to grow into adults that care about the earth.

Cultivate their compassion and show them that

Self-sufficiency can be rewarding and tasty.

Claire Yang, via email

The Humility of a Vegetable

One seed, surrounded by a vast sea of soil

Pushing forward to the light

Watered with calloused hands and sweat

Sprouting out and up

Toward the golden silky strands of sunlight

The testament to life, reaped from toil

Is but a humble cucumber

Timothy Busam, East Northport


Growing my veggies here at home,

Gives me inspiration for this poem.

Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, it’s fun.

Needing only, soil, water and sun.

I reap what I sow

and I save some dough.

Eileen Melia Hession, Long Beach


First, I planted tomatoes, and they were so delicious,

Cooked or cold I ate them in so many wonderful dishes.

Next year I added basil, so savory, so sweet.

Then I learned about caprese, a grand Italian treat.

I want it fresh and wonder what a gardener’s best advice is,

What do I plant in order to grow mozzarella slices?

Susan Marie Davniero, Lindenhurst

Dad’s Garden Tomatoes

It’s Dad’s backyard spread

A garden of tomatoes bed

The plants’ harvest grew

Fresh tomatoes on the menu

Only garden tomatoes could

Ever taste this good.

Keith A. Simmons, Bay Shore

Fruit of the Earth

Springtime comes to the vegetable garden

hands dig deep into the earth

sensing a connection to my earth source

to the ingredients of which I am made

water, dirt and DNA

all that I am

the fruit of the earth.

J. Fischer


When planting our hydrangea in the front yard much to our delight, a melon grew, in clear sight.

From compost bin to a garden miracle win.

A gift from above that grew so swift.

Although small as an apple, a mini sample

A treasure to eat and incredibly sweet.

A onetime treat we could never repeat.

Joan Marg-Kirsten, Levittown

Our Apple Trees

We had peach, pear and apple trees all over our backyard

with enough room to walk between them

loved the apples most, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths.

I’d give my son buckets, “Go get some apples?” I’d ask.

They loved that chore, even washed apples for me.

Then I’d cut them up, make applesauce, homemade pies

Knowing we all had a hand in it, the aroma wafting in the air, waiting for supper, wow!

Linda Sardone, West Hempstead


I planted: Wildflowers and milkweed to attract butterflies.

Squash, pumpkins, tomatoes and beans for food.

Marigolds to keep the insects away.

Impatiens and sedum to bedazzle with color.

Rose and lilac to overwhelm with fragrance.

Yet the weeds and poison ivy invade forevermore.

Bill Kirsten, Levittown

Cherry Tree

We had a cherry tree in our backyard,

Picking the cherries wasn’t that hard.

Problem was we had to pick them all in one day.

If not the birds would come and take them away.

The next morning, oh, woe is me!

The tree would be bare

With no cherries to eat

Joan Marg-Kirsten, Levittown

Gardening in the Summertime

I didn’t plant, water or weed them.

I told her, “You can use my backyard for your garden.”

And she told me, “Help yourself to whatever you can use.”

So in the middle of making a salad I stop what I’m doing

go out the back door to her garden patch.

I pick the brightest, reddest tomatoes, wash them, add salt, pepper, olive oil, and balsamic.

I feed them to my family.

I love summertime.

Bernice Busch, Oceanside

Au Nutritional

It’s always tasty and a treat.

Planting the food that you eat.

Better than buying from the store shelf.

Healthy when you grow it yourself.

Water and sun, some TLC.

There’s nothing like homegrown variety.

Bernice Busch, Oceanside

Gardener’s Lament

I have no green thumb at all

I planted the bulb in the fall

Looked in the ground

It’s upside down

As a gardener, I’m in withdrawal.

Irma Souveroff, Baldwin

The Buzz Around Town

Mary? Mary’s a secretary.

(In her spare time a beekeeper, though.)

She’s come out of her shell, for her honey sells well

And her profits are sweet, don’t you know.

Irma Souveroff, Baldwin

Blue Haiku

Berries were dawn-picked,

Fragrant blue heaven awaits:

Pies oozing warm juice.

Tim Kaler, Brentwood

Earthly Concern

Vegetable kingdom homegrown labor of love inch by inch

Our gratitude can’t sit down for the weeds and their endless squinch.

Climb along the garden wall while sown seeds of substance unclinch.

What’s good for the golden sunflower is good for the goldfinch.

With a snap sweet pea secure your harvested hand in a cinch.

Taken with a grain of salt Mother Earth’s bounty gets a pinch.

Sustain mankind with organic agriculture and don’t flinch

Maria Manobianco, Farmingdale


Once a week I curb

my recycling for pick up

and I am happy.

Dick Kissel, Amityville

My Self Sufficient Garden

No need to buy compost,

From leaves I make my own.

I love to plant the seedlings,

And watch how much they’ve grown.

My self-sufficient gardening

Provides a chem-free crop.

Tomatoes, kale and brocc.

Dick Kissel, Amityville

My Self Sufficient Garden

Haiku versions


Garden without chemicals

Tasty tomatoes!

Organic garden

Peacefully planting snow peas.

My wok awaits you.

Compost strengthens soil.

Tomatoes red and ripened,

Tasty, chem-free treat.

Youthful verses

Fynn Haughney, 14, Bay Shore
I haven’t given birth to a child, yet.
But I have been a mom.
I have grown seedlings into tall and mighty stems.
Seedlings that have no meaning, until the world sees them grown.
But I, and any other farmer, or a person that occasionally plants,
See the small seeds as beautiful and strong,
And the changes we need to make Eve’s garden a finer speck in the universe.

Eliana Eisermann, 8, Commack
I feel the sun in my heart. It tells me to feel happy. 
Flowers bloom when the sun is bright, and the day is nice.
Fruits grow in bushes and trees. It tastes delicious when nice and ripe.
Vegetables grow as well delicious wherever they are to grow.