Deborah Young of Seasons Is Bringing Brooklyn Back to Its Roots
In Search of a Greener New York is an ongoing Garden Collage series of explorations about sustainability efforts in New York City and beyond– including the people, places, and ideas that are making Manhattan a healthier, happier place to live. In this column, we spotlight individuals who are making New York a “greener” place in an attempt to discover how, exactly, they are doing it. This week, GC spotlights Deborah Young of Seasons, the Brooklyn native putting the local back in nurseries.
“I planted my first seed at three years old,” Deborah Young tells us on a recent visit to her greenhouse in Bed-Stuy. “I’ve been playing in the dirt for 53 years!”
Since opening Seasons Nursery and Garden Center in 2012, Young has become an invaluable resource for gardeners in central Brooklyn: “Back in the day you could get everything you needed here in Brooklyn; then, at the end of the ’60s, that all went away. I remember what it was like being a mother of five and having to go all the way out of the neighborhood just to get nice stuff,” she once explained on the nursery’s website. “I want to bring Brooklyn back to its glory days– so people don’t need to drive somewhere else to get what they need. They can walk from their homes to get their plants, flowers, and Christmas trees!”
“My father introduced me to gardening,” she explains on our recent return to the nursery, which is now a fixture of the neighborhood. “He was born in 1916 and was raised by his grandmother who was freed from slavery at 9 years old– from what I know of her history…she was one tough woman!”
“It was North Carolina, and they were black people– they were into agriculture. When my father met my mother and they bought a house in Bed-Stuy, they had a backyard. You have to remember that in the Great Migration, black folks from the South were escaping Jim Crow, and they thought it would be easier for them up here. They wanted OUT of that bullshit! They escaped! That picture of my mom? That was taken sometime about 1945… she was 20 and just new to New York. My father and mother met here in Bed-Stuy. They got married, and built a life. It wasn’t easy for them back there. I honor their sacrifices everyday.
They both were from farming communities– farming families. So my father taught me: I planted my first seed on his knee, at age three. It was a morning glory seed, and that plant still grows in the backyard where I was raised, every year, to this day.”
“It doesn’t matter the year or age that you are when you are first introduced to growing; it doesn’t matter if your parents were into it. It matters if you want to learn. I’ve been playing in the dirt for 53 years. Now, as a licensed New York State Agriculture Grower– I do at least 8,000 plants a year, but I’m going to lose at least a quarter of them; that’s just the nature of the beast. These are living things— some seeds do well, some don’t. When you’re a professional grower, you have to count on losing a quarter- to a third of your crop. You’ve got to. That’s how you act and price accordingly– because it’s going to happen.”
“This is the first garden center and nursery that Bed-Stuy has ever had,” she tells us. “I’ve been dreaming of doing this for 30+ years!”, when we mention how much we love the place. “Right now, we’re doing ipomea, coleus, mints, some herbs– like lavender, basil, cilantro…we’re just seeding some of those now. We started seeding/put our cuttings up in February/March. Some are starting to sprout; some will be ready to roll in a few weeks! Many are still young and tender plants, due to our weather/climate change, and won’t be ready till the end of May. We have about 3,000 plants here [at the nursery/garden center] and then another 800 plants at home. She says, “We don’t ‘force’ our plants. Once the temperature at night rises above 65 degrees consistently, then I’ll bring them here.” And with that, she’s off to tend to her plants, as customers keep rolling in.