By Catherine Morrison
David Goldstick is a familiar figure in Riverside Park. You can find him every morning between 9 and 11, working in the area around the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial at 83rd Street, and again in the afternoon from 2 to 4, now that the season is underway. This has been his territory since 1991, when Stanley Zabar recruited him for the Park.
Goldstick’s 90th birthday is approaching. Asked if his plans have changed in the face of this significant milestone: “Not at all,” he replied. “I have a 10-year outlook. That’s why I start with small plants. It takes them 10 years to mature. My physical abilities are reduced, so my work habits have changed. I have help from a crew from the Goddard Riverside Community Center, and neighborhood volunteers between 50 and 80 years old work alongside me.”
In 2012-2013, when the wall west of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial collapsed due to water damage, restoring the first 100 yards of it between 84th and 86th became Goldstick’s priority. His nursery beds are below the parapet of the reconstructed wall, and each year he places extensive orders of “starts” — tiny plants in flats of 100. He covers the cost, then grows the tiny plants along for a few years until they are ready to be set out in the almost four acres under his watch.
Recently his work has expanded enormously. Along the walkway into the Park from 83rd Street there is a difficult footpath about 15 feet downhill, leading off to the right to the top of Mt. Tom. This rocky outcrop of Manhattan schist is rumored to have been named by Edgar Allan Poe after the son of the owner of the farmhouse he rented nearby. The planting will be primarily Viburnum plicatum, “Popcorn,” the showiest variety, started from cuttings in 2016.
This is only Goldstick’s current project; like most gardeners he’s “bred in the bone.” Nine-year-old David started gardening during World War II in East Lansing, Michigan. The State Agricultural College plowed up two acres of empty lots for Victory Gardens and families signed up for quarter-acre plots, 100’ x 100.’ Children used hoes to break up the soil and planted potatoes, corn and broccoli for the home kitchen. A large portion of commercially grown food in those years went to the military.
The Goldsticks moved to Great Neck, NY, in 1945 when David was 12. Of course there was room for another vegetable garden. College and law school followed. A practicing lawyer by 1962, he moved to the Upper West Side. A few years later he bought a second home in Westport, CT, plowing up the lawn for vegetables. The conversion to flowers and shrubs did not come until a trip to London in 1978, setting him on the path to Riverside Park.
Permanently settled on the Upper West Side, he became a legendary lawyer in the world of co-op and condominium conversions. He retired from the practice of law in 1989 and by 1991 Stanley Zabar, a client of the firm, recruited him for Riverside Park. The Warsaw Ghetto Memorial needed funding and Goldstick agreed to support it, but only if he could do the work as well. Over the year his responsibility grew to the present almost-four acres.
The plantings are extraordinary. Two hundred varieties, 34 different hydrangeas alone, faced down with hellebores and ferns. Hydrangeas have a reputation for being notoriously finicky, but are not indulged here. They are planted under black locusts and among rock outcrops, starting out as small plants, tucked in among roots and into crevices, then covered with wood chips. There is an excellent watering system that compensates for the lack of pampering. The pruning of hydrangeas is tricky, the subject of book chapters and periodic technical articles. That is not the practice here. The hydrangeas are never pruned unless a volunteer is unable to resist.
Goldstick is the only person on his worksite who decides what to plant. There is no interference, only benign oversight. He is not a fan of abject allegiance to native plants, believing that when a site is disturbed and man-made elements are introduced, the natural ecosystem is irretrievably altered. Then all bets are off.
In 1994, David Goldstick joined the board of the Riverside Park Fund, now the Riverside Park Conservancy, where he is consistently outspoken, opinionated and deeply committed. You can find him any day in his part of the park. Visitors are always welcome. Stop by and say hello. He would love to see you.
This guy has been my hero since reading the notice on the history of sanctuary. Among the most important things he has done have been his demonstration of the perfect life, which has to include to any woke person generosity, beauty, dignity, strength, commitment…..love.
Wonderful article. What a generous, conscientious and helpful volunteer David Goldstick is. Hats off to Stanley Zabar for his support of David’s work. Thank you, Catherine Morrison, for this great reporting, and to West Side Rag for reaching out to the community to find writers with a good story to report.
Wonderful! I love his gardens immensely and I like him so much too!
Thank you, David, for your commitment, enthusiasm, and energy. I run through Riverside Park daily and am always amazed at the wonderful community of volunteers I see tending to the gardens. Even in the cold! You are truly a treasure. And happy early birthday!
What a beautiful story and tribute. And we appreciate all his hard work and dedication.
What a beautiful story and tribute. We appreciate his hard work and dedication.
This is a great man and a great guy! GO DAVID!
Those gorgeous hydrangeas stop me in my tracks every time I walk through Riverside Park. Thank you David, and thanks to WSR and Catherine Morrison for the story. And David, those photos are beautiful!
I’m one of David’s workers. He’s the best!!! Thanks for this great story.
Great story. I had no idea one person was responsible for all the beauty and diversity in this area of the park. It really is a testament to the power of one person to bring light any beauty to the world. I love this man! One day when I retire, I hope to take a few pages out of his playbook. I am going to seek him out to thank him in person for all he has contributed.
When the Riverside Park Conservancy (then known as Riverside Park Fund) conducted school programs in the Park, David was always generous with his time to chat with the students about his work. He always got them involved one way or the other: maybe encouraging them to simply feel the dirt with their hands, or once giving a class of first graders a badly tangled hose and simply instructing: “Untangle it”!
Loved learning about David and I love his gardens.
David is a legend and mentor for so many gardeners!! Can’t believe he’s nearing 90 – he looks like he’s in his sixties. Know he is supported by a wife who is a goddess!
Inspirational… I started walking there when Covid abruptly shut down the JCC pool. In a new-to-me pattern, I found miracles and consolations, and witnessed his constant work to better that part of Riverside Park. (He had a station wagon and a patient dog in the car). And the blooms: oh my! His work has helped me survive this challenging time. (I hadn’t known the back story ‘til now).
What a wonderful, uplifting. story. Special thanks to Mr. Goldstick for his passion all these years in maintaining these beautiful gardens for everyone’s enjoyment.
This is my favorite part of the entire city. Mr. Goldstick’s care and attention to every detail of this space creates a special oasis in the middle of our busy city. My daughters and I love looking for his “signature” flowers all around that part of Riverside Park!
David opinionated? Never!
How can we contribute to the costs?
Riverside Park Conservancy
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115
I am not at all surprised that he switched from vegetables to flowers after visiting London whose parks contain some of the most beautiful flower gardens in the world with plants in bloom year long. From rows of white chesnut tree flambeaux in spring to lovely herbaceous borders and beds of specimen roses. London is 47% green.
I live in Bangalore, India and every summer when I come to visit my daughter who lives in 222 riverside drive we go for walks down in the park. The hydrangea patch is my favorite place. I am fascinated by the gardening done voluntarily done by residents of that area. I would like to help when I visit in May and would really love to meet David Goldstick. I do stop and chat with those who I see working in the park. Maybe I have met him too. 😊Roma Singh
I have known David Goldstick since 1955.
He is a unique individual and New York City, especially the West Side and Riverside Park is fortunate to have him: His Wife Deedy also deserves some of the kudos for living with David for over 60 years:
Wonderful article on a committed gardener.
An absolutely favorite part of the park for me – and clearly so many others – and now thanks to WSR we know why. Here’s to a great New Yorker with vision and commitment to this beauty for everyone.
David, you are the best! Congratulations on so many decades of botanical genius! Lots of love!
Thanks so much, David! 💗👍
Really appreciate the beauty David has created and nice to know the story behind it.
Thank you, David!
Awesome story. He looks amazing. All that gardening must keep him young.
Thank you David!!
David, your gardens are beautiful, as always. I learned a lot from your gardens in Westport and I still love gardening, but I am now in Southern Florida and I love experimenting with the different plants that they grow down here.
You are a true inspiration.
David has always been a passionate person about many things in his life. He demonstrated that while practicing law. I had the good fortune of working opposite him on many legal matters (it never felt that way) and enjoying just being in the room with him. Wonderful human being and this story is just one example of the caring, generous and talented David is.
I live at 320 Riverside at 104th. Never heard of him though should have. Great story though and very inspiring.
Beautiful article on a beautiful person. What a gift to the horticulture of the park and what joy the blossoms bring. I met David when I first joined Riverside Park in the late 90’s when we collaborated on plans for not just the plants, but the unbuilt stone paving design around the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial. His energy is infectious and his good work an inspiration. Thank you David!
Your design of the memorial is magical. It has given much comfort to the thousands who visit each year.
Beautiful article Knowing him personally and part of my family so proud of his accomplishments. Living on the west side as well it’s wonderful to walk the park and see his work. Was at the dedication of the memorial of the Warsaw ghetto monument What an accomplishment. Love you David Goldstick!!!
Wonderful story about an exemplary person. I also applaud the NYT for NOT including some sort of sales pitch in this article…as it seems to do in so many others.
What a wonderful human being. I would like to do a story on PIX11 about David Goldstick as his 90th birthday approaches. Will you please forward my contact Info to him Or firward his to me.
We’ve been watching David’s garden grow for over 25 years and remain awestruck.
David is a living legend.
Bravo to you, David!
And deepest gratitude for all of your hard work and dedication and for sharing the beauty of your garden with all of us.
Both David and Deedy are UWS treasures, the warmest, kindest most generous people. The beauty of Riverside Park helped so many of us through the dark days of COVID. David’s plantings by the River gave us light and beauty. We are so grateful.
I love this man!!!