The flower basket garden at the intersection of S. Broadway and Westchester Avenue was the victim of a car accident Thursday. It was installed in 1996, 20 years ago, and over time has been refurbished by the White Plains Beautification Foundation (WPBF), which installed it and many other gardens around White Plains.
Two people in the car that hit the installation were hurt and recovering, and it is expected that the garden will be rebuilt with money from insurance.
The inspiration for the basket came from longtime White Plains resident and founding WPBF member Barbara Vrooman.
Barbara remembers that on vacation many years ago on the island of Nantucket, she spied a large topiary replica of a famous lightship basket. It was filled with lovely summer flowers, and Barbara immediately thought this would be a good idea for White Plains. She thought of another “island” this one a crumbling traffic island located at the top of Armory Place.
Both county curbs and city pavement needed to be replaced to provide an attractive and safe base for the proposed installation. After many months of meetings, the city agreed to lay the attractive red “bomanite” brick, and the county agreed to install granite curbing that would provide the perfect setting for the basket.
Barbara approached Rudy Nabel, owner of the former Nabel’s Garden Center on Mamaroneck Avenue. “He had no clue what was in store for him when I approached him with this idea,” Barbara said. “Could he create this “dream basket” and could he stay within our board approved budget of $5,000?”
Five months at the drawing board later, the basket began to take on a life of its own. It now measured 18-feet long, 9-feet wide and 9-feet tall, and the $5,000 budget had grown to a conservative figure of $18,000. This re-adjusted cost was Rudy’s gift to WPBF and the city.
The basket would be planted seasonally at a cost of approximately $2,000, and Nabel’s became the Adopt-a-Park sponsor paying for the yearly upkeep.
The basket was designed and constructed on-site at Nabel’s by Rudy and Robert Dean and built by Jack McGrath and William Strong. It is made of large cedar boards milled on site and stained walnut.
An original idea of using lattice to create the basket look was dropped when Jack decided to challenge himself and “weave” the cedar strips. It took two months to construct the basket in a warehouse at the nursery, and on the day of dedication Sept 12, 1996, it took 15 men to maneuver it on and off a flat bed trailer at 4 a.m.
Once on site the marine plywood inner liner was filled with 2.5 tons of special potting soil mix – Nabel’s “house blend,” and then the famous Nabel and his crew began planting the magic garden with colorful chrysanthemums, blue plumbago shrub, lantana trees in pink and lemon, purple sweet potato vine cascading over the rim and English ivy entwined on the handle. It was absolutely breathtaking – a work of art, and has remained so over the years with care and maintenance.
Hopefully it can be rebuilt to its former glory with the vision and work of a new generation of caretakers.