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Figs, flowers and fresh air

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Vincent Armerino knows how to compost. Armerino knows how to mulch, weed and trim. He knows how to water witch hazel, grow grapes and tend tulips.

Armerino is a student of the soil, his Morris Park garden a delightful diploma. He and his wife, Sylvia, attend free gardening seminars at the New York Botanical Garden courtesy of Senator Jeffrey Klein.

Klein will sponsor four seminars this spring. The two remaining classes are Natural Gardening on April 25 and Healthy Houseplants on May 2. The senator is also holding a sunflower contest.

“We enjoy the seminars,” Armerino said. “We learn a great deal. The tomatoes we plant taste a hundred times better than the tomatoes we buy at the supermarket.”

Armerino began gardening in earnest in 1998, when his wife’s father – a gardener from the Italian old school – passed away.

“My father-in-law, rest his soul, had a garden,” Armerino said. “When he emigrated from Ponza, he packed a little fig tree in his suitcase and planted it in our backyard. We decided to keep the garden, to remember him.”

During the spring and summer, Armerino and his wife spend their free hours in the garden. It’s hard work; Armerino rotates his own dirt, prunes his own trees and sprays his own bug deterrent – a teaspoon of dish detergent in water.

“I don’t need to go to the gym,” he said. “I’m out in the garden mowing, on my knees weeding, getting exercise.”

The Armerinos grow lettuce, onions, azaleas and daffodils. They keep an orchard of dwarf cherry and apple trees, grape vines too. Between Klein’s seminars and the Botanical Garden library, the Armerinos have acquired green thumbs.

“We’ve learned how to cut our shrubs,” Armerino said. “We’ve learned how to fertilize the soil and how to pack moisture in. We’ve learned about which plants need sun.”

The Armerinos live on Matthews Avenue, near the F & J Pine Restaurant. Diners often compliment the garden on their way to and from the restaurant.

“Our garden adds color to the neighborho­od,” said Armerino. “And because we compost, we’re helping the environment.”

Roughly 600 people attend the seminars each year.

“In the Bronx, we’re privileged to have the Botanical Garden in our backyard,” Klein said. “I’m pleased to offer good free fun for avid gardeners. Strong communities grow together.”

Armerino is ready for spring. He keeps a miniature greenhouse inside. When his father-in-law’s fig tree bears fruit, Armerino’s neighbors stop by.

“The figs have this natural sweetness – like honey,” he said. “We share with our Croatian neighbors, and with our pastor.”

Mike DeFalco manages F & J Pine. “The fig tree – that’s what I always notice,” DeFalco said. “When the weather gets nice, it’s beautiful.”

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