News - Adam Purple

Adam Purple and the Garden of Eden — 11/28/2015

On September 14th while bicycling into Manhattan on the Williamsburg bridge, 84-year-old David Lloyd Wilkie, aka Adam Purple, suffered a fatal heart attack. A unique N.Y.C. character and urban legend was lost when Adam Purple died.

Born in Independence, Missouri, and a graduate of the University of Missouri with a master’s degree in journalism, Adam Purple then worked his way across the country, teaching high school in Missouri and as a Newspaper reporter in New Jersey. In 1968 he came to New York and the Lower Eastside.

In 1973 as the neighborhood disintegrated about him, he looked upon an empty lot of broken bricks and saw a garden. Here, he would remake himself as the “Guerilla Gardener” and take on the persona of Adam Purple. Adam and his partner Eve began clearing the lot with only hand tools. Adam considered machinery “counter revolutionary.”

Adam and Eve dressed in purple tie dyed clothes. They soon became a regular sight, riding their purple bikes around together and going back and forth to Central Park where they would collect horse manure for their “Garden of Eden.” The garden was constructed out of concentric circles of stone walls that enclosed 15K square feet of flowering bushes, fruit trees and vegetables. There were black berries, strawberries, cucumbers and corn. Eight walnut trees were among the forty-five trees in the garden. All grown for the benefit of the community. This was truly a “paradise” (the Persian word for garden) in a waste land.

Still from Adam Purple and the Garden of Eden Harvey Wang and Amy Brost

On a cold and grey day in January 8th 1986 Eden came to an end. This was after a long and protracted effort to get the city to incorporate the garden into a scheme to build low income housing came to naught. A bull dozer arrived and set to work, neither the stone walls or walnut trees could resist. In a day the garden, that took over a decade to create, was obliterated.

Adam never really recovered. This may have even led to his separation with the now mother of his Daughter. What Adam Purple had pioneered vest-pocket parks on vacant land, and these parks have now been reproduced many times over in every borough of this city as “Community Gardens.”

Just in the East Village there are over forty gardens of various sizes. Most of these gardens are open to the general public. In addition to bringing contentment to the human soul, each of these little patches of green are like an oasis’s in a concrete desert to migrating birds.

Next Spring, take a walk in the East Village and Lower Eastside. In addition to the trendy new eateries and boutiques, you will be pleasantly surprised by these little Edens. And while strolling between the tomato vines and sun flowers and perhaps hearing the chatter of a Mockingbird or a Towhee’s “drink your tea,” give a thought to Adam Purple, who looked upon rubble and saw a garden.

By Marc Felix of and Linnaean Society of NY member