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The free contest, a project of GreenBridge and Borough President Marty Markowitz, and sponsored by Brooklyn Community Foundation, is a borough-wide effort to bring blocks together to green and beautify Brooklyn.

“The contest has a life of its own,” says Robin Simmen, director of Greenbridge, the community environmental horticulture program of Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “As one block starts to look nicer, the surrounding blocks take notice and want to join in. We’ve become a national model for many other cities.”

Each year the contest begins at Making Brooklyn Bloom, the BBG’s kickoff event to open the spring gardening season. The purpose of the competition is to promote streetscape gardening, tree stewardship, and community development—and the trick is that you cannot enter as a single home. You must enter as a block association, civic group or neighborhood association so it really encourages community development and on many blocks you can see this progress.

“I wish you could have seen what this block looked like 2 hours ago,” says Gary Shuford, president of the Bainbridge Block Association in Bed-Stuy. “The whole crew was working hard. We have a rainbow of ages and ethnicities and it makes me feel so good. One of the biggest highlights for me is involving youth. It may not be a summer job, but it’s a constructive distraction and helps generate a sense of ownership for everyone.”

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Every block has unique challenges from vandalism of plants or signage to empty lots and construction. But the judges of the contest take all of these conditions into account  but no block gets penalized for their conditions. Judging criteria for the contest looks at variety and sustainability of plants, horticultural practices, street tree care, soil and mulching, maintenance, color and visual effect, and citizen participation.

Danna Hebbard, the leader for the Lefferts Block Association is like a mother hen to her neighboring gardeners. She helps elderly neighbors with their gardens and even kept up gardening efforts at a one neighbor’s house who passed away earlier this year. To stand out this year, the Lefferts block has watering can planters hanging on street lamps with plants sprouting out of them. Last year, they did something similar with handbags.

“Three years ago we had about 10 houses participating on our block, and now we have about 10 or 12 that are not participating,” Hebbard says. “It’s been contagious. We have created friendships and organize getting plants together.”

“People have changed their train pattern,” says gardener Varice Cooper about his block in Lefferts. “People love walking down the block and seeing all the changes.”

Winners will be announced in August. First Prize is a $300 check for each top residential and commercial block winner. All other finalists will receive cash prizes ranging from $100 to $200.

+ Brooklyn’s Greenest Block

Photos © Brooklyn Botanic Gardens