The most personal, unusual, quite the prettiest, best smelling shop on DeKalb Avenue is also one of the easiest to miss; but don’t pass it by. You probably need a last minute gift or something small but special to help yourself feel better about negotiating the holidays.
Walk through the gate at 215 DeKalb Ave, between Clermont and Adelphi streets., into the ground-level Flowergarden run by Harold King, there you will find fresh tulips and roses, a beautiful one, Amnesia, King’s favorite, is a sort of dusky bronze, and Calla lilies, black, red and white, an array of succulents artfully potted, orange and pink freesias and other fresh flowers King personally picks out at the mid-town Flower Market from growers and importers he knows and he brings them back fresh by subway several times weekly to Fort Greene.
The flowers can be designed by King as center pieces for your parties, bouquets for weddings, or created as displays especially in your home by King who makes house calls for this purpose. He’ll also deliver any order. “I love to walk;” but he’ll also come by car. King will arrive at your home weekly, if you like, to put new mixes of carefully selected flowers into your favorite vases. He’ll get to know your taste and create especially for you.
But, if you lack that sort of money, you can buy a single, unique bloom, and if it’s been blooming for a day or two, the price has already been reduced though the flower will still last a week or more.
“I see the beauty in the flowers; they are essences. I think of flowers like people, they bloom for a while and then they are gone, like us.”
If you’ve ever eaten at Madiba, one of the best of the restaurants on the DeKalb strip, certainly the only South African one, you might have seen King’s colorful and elegant designs in tall vases on the front bar. But it’s not just flowers, with their musical names: Calla Lillies, Freesias; King’s selection of carefully nurtured, beautiful, large healthy house plants are also for sale. He has several varieties of Croton and Dieffenbachia in ceramic pots that sell from $35 to $70, depending on size, and as King says, his plants “may outlast you, if you take care of them.”
And there is his wife, Marcie King’s artwork, wrapped bamboo sticks that look like African ritual items, but are actually Fort Greene artisan works, and her paintings in brilliant colors and simple lines, alive, like the flowers with joy. King’s friend, Noel Copeland’s colorful pottery (vases, cups and boxes) is also on display and for sale. Joy, in fact, a subtle, pervasive joy is the feeling in every object. This shop is on the ground floor of King’s home for forty years, in what used to be the kitchen and living room when the five children were growing up, and it feels like another “child” to King, who is quite willing to nurture it along.
When I came in King was behind what was once his kitchen counter at the shop’s back carefully pruning a large plant. Always, jazz is on the radio, 88.3, WGBO. “I’m working for the future,” he says in his soft, deep voice. Business has been slow so far this holiday season, something I’ve heard from the proprietors’ of Thirst Wine Merchants, my other favorite shop on DeKalb. Both Flowergarden and Thirst are shops run on creativity and love, each offering the best, most carefully selected flowers or wine in the neighborhood.
But King is hampered by not yet being allowed to put large signage on the street, as the district is landmarked and his has been a private residence since he bought the foreclosed building 40 years ago. As soon as a sign can go up—hopefully in the spring, Flowergarden will be easily visible.
In the afternoons, in fine weather, King is often outside, chatting over the front gate to the many people he knows. The neighborhood has changed. The old neighbors are selling houses and moving out. “But even if I sold this house for two million dollars, I’d have to leave Brooklyn. I couldn’t afford to live here anymore. Ordinary working people can’t.” The prices, we agree, are crazy and we wonder where all the money is coming from. “The people moving in have average incomes of $300,000 or more,” he says. This should be good for business, I offer as consolation prize, for I am among the many lovers of the neighborhood who is currently being priced out.
“I’ve seen all the changes. I still enjoy the neighborhood,” King says. “I work local; I like local. People will get the sense of where to get the best flowers.”
He also hosts events, a wedding in his garden, with reception catered by another local restaurant, Chez Oskar, and a baby shower. King also buys lavender from the flower market for a local bar, Dick and Jane’s whose owner uses it for lavender flavored vodka; there on a stop shelf sit two bunches of the aromatic plant.
Once he retired from a twenty-five career investigating accident claims for the MTA, King took courses in flower arrangement at the Botanic Garden, but flowers and plants have always been in his blood and in profusion in his home. Born and raised in Carnarsie, a graduate of Medgar Evers College, his family comes from South Carolina, where his father just died at the age of 104.
King shows me succulents he’s been setting into moss in simple, silver or gold, rectangular containers, commenting on how beautiful they become as they unfold, and open with a sensual fullness, dark green with reddish tones. Perfect gifts for someone special.
“I had a lot of fun doing these,” King says. It’s a phrase he repeats as he shows me photos of other succulents, “the yin and yang, set white and black sand,” and wedding bouquets he designed in collaboration with brides to be.
Fun, in fact, is what he’s having, a quiet sort of fun, a deep satisfaction with growing things even in the many moments he’s alone in his Flowergarden “waiting for something to happen; I’m always waiting for something to happen,” King says.
But if you need a break from too much happening, and yearn for a quiet place to soak up some beauty and learn a thing or two about flowers and plants, then slow down at the stoop of 215 DeKalb and stop by for a chat with Harold King; he’ll be more than glad to offer a personal guided tour of the flowers and plants in his shop and of the art.
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