A Patio Transformed

RISC Garden Terrace: A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

Rebecca Ocampo
... a bright yellow sunflower and a bee gleefully hovering on it.
... a bright yellow sunflower and a bee gleefully hovering on it.
© Rebecca Ocampo

"A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever." John Keats, Endymion (poem), c.1818

The Editor and Chief Writer, David Stone, did not perceive it, but my heart leapt when he said, “Yes, you can have a column on everything pleasant and positive about our community.”

In a flash, I got engaged to contribute stories to the Roosevelt Island Daily.

RISC Garden Terrace: A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

I grabbed my camera and, with a spring in my step, rushed out, determined to find something — a flower, a leaf, a bird, a smiling face –- anything that displays that beauty and joy is anywhere and everywhere.

Without a plan, I found myself at the Senior Center; straight to where I used to attend art classes. From the windows, I stared at the patio. I pushed the door and stood outside, consuming the shape and color of every plant, tree, chair, vine, even of a man sitting quietly.

I knew this patio in the past when I found it very repulsive.

I used to stare at it — trying to find anything to inspire me on my canvas, the size of a drawing pad.

I kept complaining, “Why keep this dry, aging and vacant spot wasted?”

If only some kind of transformation would happen so that it could be a source of inspiration to the elderly, visitors, gym and art students. During each art class, I yearned for a miracle of “patio usefulness.”

The art teacher complemented my thoughts.

“Use art to transform it. Just draw and use the paint colors on the table.”

So I imagined a barn for storage and surrounded it with different types of tall, dark green trees and bright red flowers. That was nearly three years ago.

RISC Garden Terrace: A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever
© Rebecca Ocampo

Today, the patio has a new name — Garden Patio. It’s alive and kicking with its new character and charm. It has become an oasis of beauty, solace and fellowship.

The two long rusted metal patio chairs have become useful, attracting visitors to sit and enjoy the colorful surrounding of green shrubs and flowers of alternating colors — red, yellow, orange, purple.

The bird feeder appears romantic with its tarnished yellow saucers. A lady figurine is watching her pot of flowers resting on a Victorian patio chair. An owl guards her collection with intense attention.

The wire arch trellis has vines of different lengths and textures which float and then roll down gracefully. The flower containers with creative designs and pigments provide samples of artistic patterns.

And, the tall tomato plant with baby green produce takes full advantage of the sun until ready for picking. The pot of luscious lavender herb is calming.

The air around is very different now, cleaner and refreshing.

The tables spread around are used for reading or composing a novel, drawing portraits or even comics, or meeting a friend to refresh or reminisce. (An elderly man sits alone, oblivious of anyone around, perhaps finding solace or merely indulging in some precious moment.)

The garden patio is not concerned about the forthcoming cold season –- when summer transitions to autumn and winter. It should soon start and leaves will turn red, yellow and brown before falling off branches.

While the garden patio continues to excite and thrill me, I hate to imagine how overnight, the cold weather will wither away everything. I console myself that winter will bring a period of seed dormancy. Plants will remain living but will temporarily stop growing.

As if in suspended animation, the garden patio will experience a period of recycling when plants start metabolizing and gearing for next spring and summer. I was willing to anticipate abundant beauty from a rebirth.

I dropped by the office of the Senior Center Director, Lisa Fernandez, to acknowledge the great transformation that has just given me much awe and joy.

With a glow in her eyes, and a sense of pride and accomplishment, she noted that all was possible from the many contributions of the senior residents, their friends and families.

Lisa Fernandez (C) convenes Senior Garden Group. Louella Streitz and RIOC's Steve Noone were on hand to assist.
Lisa Fernandez (C) convenes Senior Garden Group. Louella Streitz and RIOC's Steve Noone were on hand to assist.
© Rebecca OCampo

“They bring whatever they can spare of their houseplants or their neighbor’s garden. They donate time to plant and replant, to design, arrange and decorate. They exchange knowledge about gardening. It’s not just anyone’s green thumb that brings forth the colors; it’s everyone’s fertile imagination and passion.”

“Your timing is perfect,” Lisa added.

“Come day after tomorrow because we’ll conduct our first meeting at the Garden Patio.”

Yes, at the garden patio where the meeting will officially announce the birth of the Roosevelt Island Senior Garden Group.

Back in my apartment, my mind flashed back to a deserted patio.

I had completely forgotten that dark, dry empty space.

I searched for my notes from the art class. Then I remembered that the Art Teacher, John Mendelsohn and I transformed that patio in the past. I emailed him to inquire if he could recall a drawing of the patio.

He wrote that he can retrieve the drawing from his archive. I wanted to be sure that I had encountered that patio before.

When I came to pick up the drawing, John and I burst into a joyous celebration. Indeed, there was once a transformation of the patio –- in our imagination expressed on canvass!

Our attention shifted to his ongoing class. My eyes caught a smiling Joan Cohen drawing the finishing touch on a bright yellow sunflower and a bee gleefully hovering on it.

Last week, I was at the meeting.

A group of seniors gathered near a wide, big red patio umbrella surrounded by weather resistant patio chairs. I realized that I did not have to worry about what will happen to the garden patio once winter settles in.

Everyone had an idea about maintenance. The discussion opened with ideas on how to deal with any drainage problems. A winterization plan was announced and strategies for implementation identified.

Proposals were aired on how to package plant containers to avoid damage, move perennials indoors to keep “geraniums” blooming through the winter, and solicit frost covers and blankets or old linen sheets or tablecloths. A training video would demonstrate winterization and maintenance procedures.

I did not have to stay longer.

I took a last glimpse of the beauty around us. I was sure that the same patio has been transformed in a very real sense. And, every part of it has become a priceless source of character, charm, inspiration and, joy.

It will not be abandoned again.

Its welcome sign says that entry is free; conversation among friends around the patio tables is free; admiring the trees and flowers is free; breathing the air is free; imagination is free…

That kind of beauty from a garden patio is joy forever.


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