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Helene Hanff Appreciation Week: Letter from New York

In 1978 Hanff was approached to prepare a short series of five-minute broadcasts about the city of New York, where she lived, to be played on BBC radio. The series ran for six years, and the book compilation of her talks was published as Letter from New York, from which today's excerpt is taken. Enjoy!

"In our building, my friend Nina gave a birthday dinner for our mutual friend Richard a few weeks ago. I remember telling you once that almost nobody in New York has a garden. And the reason why I said almost nobody is that here and there, in a Manhattan highrise apartment house, there's a remarkable exception like Nina. Nina lives in a penthouse on the 16th floor, and the living room double doors open onto a narrow cement terrace, twenty feet long but only five feet wide. In window boxes along the twenty-foot railing and in pots on shelves along the opposite brick wall--sixteen floors above the street--is Nina's garden. The night of Richard's birthday dinner we had cocktails on the terrace and I made Nina give me the names of everything growing there, so you'd know what can be done with a narrow cement terrace and a green thumb. Blooming in Nina's garden are ageratum, miniature amaryllis, miniature dahlias, dianthus, freesia...

Nina owned Duke, my true love, the German shepherd who died last winter; and she used to get very wrathful when he ate her flowers. I'd ring the bell to take him to the park, and Nina'd open the door and say: 'Your boyfriend had a little African violet salad for breakfast; I'm not speaking to him.'"