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Western Queens gardeners were seeing green last week after more than $100,000 in improvements were unveiled at a well-used community garden near the Astoria Houses.

The green thumbs joined City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and Dorothy Lewandowski, the city Parks Department’s commissioner for Queens, May 5 at a ribbon-cutting for the Two Coves Community Gardens, which is in a 25,000-square-foot triangular lot on Astoria Boulevard at 8th Street and 30th Avenue in Astoria.

Vallone has secured more than $100,000 for the garden’s upgrade, which includes a new irrigation system, benches and trees. The site will eventually include a gazebo and space for community events.

“When I took office, this was an abandoned lot,” Vallone said. “We were approached by the gardeners who convinced us this location should be a park and a place where they could continue to use their plots. It’s a real jewel in Astoria.”

In the mid-1990s, the site was paved and fence installed, but it was eventually left vacant, becoming overgrown with weeds and filled with trash from illegal dumping.

In 2006, a grassroots movement to establish a community garden succeeded in securing a spot where local gardeners could grow a variety of vegetables, such as 10-foot sunflowers, eggplant, squash, tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and collared greens.

Members of the garden’s steering committee had attempted to prevent a park from being created at the site. But now the garden will remain intact, using only a portion of its site for park space.

The Parks Department provides supplies for the garden through its Green Thumb program.

Vanessa Hall, who lives at Astoria Houses and plants small trees in the garden, said Two Coves started with 80 members, but has now grown to 200 gardeners using plots at the site. An additional 150 people are on a waiting list to get a plot.

The garden’s committee does not charge gardeners for the plots, but suggests a $20 donation.

“We’ve come a long way and we’re growing,” Hall said. “We made this a beautiful spot where there was once an ugly eyesore.”

Claudia Coger, president of Astoria House’s resident association, said only a small portion of the gardeners at Two Coves hail from the housing development. Most of them come from Queens, but several are from the other four boroughs, she said.

Coger, who has lived in Astoria Houses for 55 years, said the upgraded garden is a good replacement for some of the site’s former uses, which have included a spot for dumping trash and concrete, a warehouse, a body shop and several homes.

“It’s a great improvement,” she said. “It’s really flourished in the last five years.”

Gardening season at Two Coves runs from April 1 to Nov. 1.

Lewandowski said the project has been long in the making, but worth the wait.

“It’s been a long road to hoe,” she said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:50 pm, October 10, 2011
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