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Nonprofit provides green space to underserved communities

Seven years ago, Jamaica resident Alicia White realized that there was green space in her community that wasn’t being used to its fullest potential.

She noticed that Railroad Park was being used as a dumping ground and that a few community members did what they could to keep it clean on their own.

“So one day, when I was on my way home, I asked one of them, ‘Is there a way I can help?’And they told me they would love for someone else to come and help clean up the space,” White said.

“Long story short, I had a volunteer project there that next Saturday, and I came with volunteers to clean it up,” she said. “From there, I was trying to figure out what more I could do.”

After various neighbors and friends saw what White had done for her community, they began to ask her for help with other green spaces with great potential.

By following that calling, White went on to create Project Petals, a nonprofit that devotes itself to creating and maintaining green spaces in New York’s under-resourced and BIPOC communities.

Project Petals has grown from that one project in Queens, to 10 projects across the five boroughs including the Mill Brook Houses Garden in South Bronx, Bergen Street Garden in Crown Heights, and Paradise Garden in Jamaica.

Prominent personal care brand Tom’s of Maine recently awarded Project Petals a $20,000 grant as part of their “Giving For Goodness” program.

“It’s empowering that Tom’s of Maine sees the impact Project Petals and our community of volunteers have at a local level,” White said. “These green spaces we develop provide food, wellness and will be there, benefiting the community for years to come.”

White added that the team has already started utilizing the funds to further expand their initiatives by providing tools, gardening materials, and other resources for programming in each garden.

Sonia Ferraro, a gardener who works the day-to-day at Paradise Community Garden is thankful for White’s efforts to provide environmentally equitable spaces to those underserved — especially during such difficult times.

“Alicia White and Project Petals helped us when we were struggling,” Ferraro said. “I was going to give up and was ready to throw in the towel. No one was giving us tools and resources, then Alicia and Project Petals came, and our garden really got started. Now we are thriving because of their help.”

Paradise Garden in Jamaica serves as a “learning garden,” where people can learn to grow their own food and distribute fresh produce to the community.

The garden also recently held an event where PPE was distributed, including masks, hand sanitizer, and COVID tests, as well as providing a space for mental health and wellness for community members.

White said that she’s happy to see BIPOC communities benefiting from the efforts of Project Petals, given where the organization is based geographically.

“A lot of the communities we work in are food deserts, and that access isn’t there. The gardens also act in a way so people can learn,” White said. “Growing your own food is not a skill that many people in New York City have, which is something that we help with, but I would say the most important feature of the spaces is that we’re creating healthy spaces. Usually, a lot of Black and brown communities in New York City lack green spaces, compared to Manhattan or other zip codes that have more funding. So it’s essential and vital that these spaces are there just for health and wellness purposes as well.”

White encourages representatives from any local green space in need to reach out to [email protected] via email, and for any potential volunteers to log on to Project Petals’ website and sign up.

The Tea Garden Restoration Committee At Work

By Michael Perlman

[email protected]

Since last fall, the Tea Garden, nestled behind an ornate gate bearing Forest Hills Gardens’ logo on Greenway Terrace, and accessible through Jade Eatery’s party room, has been subject to a series of fundraising history tours, led by this columnist.

Over a week ago, the Tea Garden Restoration Committee, comprised of industry professionals including an architect and designers, local residents, and Jade owner Kumar, toured this long-forgotten treasure, where architectural and landscaping features meriting restoration and replication were pinpointed.

Step back to May 1912The iconic Tudor-style Forest Hills Inn once featured several elegant social spaces including a Tea Garden designed by Forest Hills Gardens principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury, in partnership with the prominent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. An August 1923 ad read, “an excellently appointed American Plan Hotel, catering to a discriminating transient and permanent clientele.”

It also referenced “exquisite cuisine, most attractive rates, dining room accommodations for motorists, and afternoon tea in the English Tea Garden.”

The Windsor Room, which was the inn’s main dining area, is today known as Jade Eatery, and the Tea Room which overlooked the Tea Garden, would later become the Terrace Room, adorned with murals for private dining, prior to becoming a commercial space.

Since October, a fundraiser has been underway, where the community is purchasing diverse high-quality jigsaw puzzles, donated by Ronald Gentile followed by Julie Marie, and continue to be available at $25. This will finance small yet very meaningful restoration projects, to enable the community to participate as visionaries. One such project is the replication of an 11-foot moderately ornate “Ring For Tea” stand, complete with an antique bell and cord, and a hand-painted sign bearing a teacup logo to be produced by Noble Signs. The stand is already in production by Flushing Iron Weld and principal Nelson Santander, after this columnist discovered a postcard depicting rocking chairs in front of the stand. Committee member Bea Hunt drafted the initial blueprint by applying her engineering skills.

Nature caused the monumental trees to flourish and produce a natural Gothic archway, but cast a toll on decorative features. The cascading fountain and pool amidst an arched wall that featured iguana sculptures high above have vanished. Turtles once swam below, and rocks and colorful rhododendrons were alongside the perimeters. The “Ring For Tea” stand and rocking chairs were replaced with tables and umbrellas but also vanished. Later additions include a no longer operational tiered central brick fountain and cracked flagstone and a rusty pergola. The original series of graceful pergolas featured colorful floral planting areas. However, after moments of exploration, the magic of what was and could be resurrected becomes evident.

In 1967, the Forest Hills Inn underwent conversion into apartments and is a co-op since the 1980s. In 1977, the U.S. Open relocated from the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium to Flushing Meadows, and with the change of inn’s occupancy and fewer celebrities, the Tea Garden was gradually forgotten.

The Tea Garden occasionally became the town center for community-wide events, such as a stop for the annual 4th of July Festival. In 1915, a local publication read, “Ice cream and cake was served all the children in the Tea Garden, and in the evening a pre-Revolutionary pageant was followed by dancing in the Station Square to the music of the 7th Regiment Band.”

Dogs even felt at home in the Tea Garden, such as on a Saturday afternoon fete for Boston Terriers. In July 1915, The New York Sun stated, “It will be in the nature of a classified match for trophies and ribbons, with Vinton Breese as a judge. The unclassified specials are the judge’s cup, for best bred by exhibitor; Inn cup, for best in the show; Cord Meyer cup, for best of the opposite sex to Inn cup winner, and trophies from Mrs. A.S. Whitesell for the best local dog and the best dog from NYC.” There were over 100 entries, with a very large crowd of spectators.

“The Gardens Chapter of the Women’s Club of Forest Hills Gardens is to hold a flower show at the Forest Hills Tea Garden, Wednesday, June 21,” read another early 20th century article. Some proceeds benefited the $500 playground fund. Another special event was a Strawberry Festival held by the St. Luke’s Women’s Guild on June 10, 1922, from 2 to 6 PM. Homemade ice cream was served with strawberries, as well as lemonade, and garden hats were sold. The Tea Garden also hosted early productions by The Garden Players, such as “Prunella” in 1921, prioritizing its natural setting. Another was Rostand’s “The Romancers” on June 9, 1916, at 8:15 PM for $1.

The July 12, 1924 edition of The Forest Hills Bulletin read, “The Tea Garden of the Forest Hills Inn is a veritable fairyland when lighted with Japanese lanterns, with the trickling fountain heard in the background, and a new moon shining overhead. There is no more delightful place in Greater New York for one to spend the dinner hour.” Every evening during the warmer months between 6:30 and 9 PM, a delectable dinner was served, to the music of the Inn Trio, featuring selections such as Dvorak’s “Humoresque,” Nevin’s “A Day in Venice,” Godard’s “Canzonetta,” and Albeniz’s “A Night In Seville.” On September 19, 1924, the Forest Hills Choral Club held a reception and dance in honor of its new conductor, Alfred Boyce.

“The Enchanted Gardens – Coolest and most delightful spot on Long Island” read a 1924 ad featuring couples in elegant attire, dining with tablecloths and dancing under a forested scene. At the time, M. Lawrence Meade was the Forest Hills Inn general manager. Special buffet lunches were served from 12 to 2:30 during tournaments, as the inn had its own tennis courts, accessible through a long-gone landscaped arched entryway from the Tea Garden, predating the Forest Hills Inn Apartments annex at 20 Continental Avenue. The inn was open for dinner daily, and dancing was held on Wednesday and Saturday evenings with no cover charge.

In a circa mid-1950s brochure, the Tea Garden was referred to as the Patio-Garden, and its glory continued. It offered “a bubbling fountain, candlelight, large umbrellas, and tall trees” with “violin strings in the spring and summer.”

The Tea Garden was the center stage for ceremonial events. The wedding reception of Luicina Gaiser’s parents, Frederic Harry Gaiser III and Julianne McCaffrey, was held on August 31, 1963, in the Tea Garden and former Garden Room of the Forest Hills Inn. A memoir read, “Were led down the walk about a block to the Garden, where there was an orchestra and tables and trees, and waiters serving tidbits and drinks. Stayed there for about an hour and a half. Fun prevailed. Pictures of wedding party and parents taken.” Luicina reflected, “As a child and to date, it was a lost garden or dreamland. There is a quiet peace that breathes life in this garden, that can’t be stifled by having been forgotten.”

For Eve Galvez, Forest Hills has always been a place that she could call home, and now her wish came true. She feels fortunate for the Tea Garden, a distinctive destination that could once again become a community asset. She said, “The Tea Garden is a beautiful space that has been abandoned for so long, but was once a place that created lasting memories. Our goal is to bring that to the present day with the help of industry professionals and residents. I am excited for this project, and hope to help in any way that I can.”

Francesca Victoria feels it is a stereotype that New Yorkers are always looking towards the future in favor of glass skyscrapers. She explained, “I believe that most are interested in preserving the past, and especially beautiful landscapes within their communities. Seeing so many people come together to stand up for a local landmark, and speak out not just for its preservation, but for its continued use for the community, gives hope for Forest Hills’ future. Most people are familiar with Station Square and the Forest Hills Inn, and I’m sure that most people have peeked behind that gate at least once or twice and wondered what it was and if it has any current use.” She ponders as to how it was once so well-known but is now much forgotten among inhabitants. “I hope this campaign will not only preserve the Tea Garden but spread historical awareness.”

Botanical Garden towers scrapped after backlash

After many weeks of speaking for the trees, the local Loraxes and community activists at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden have successfully halted the development of two high-rise towers that would have severely impacted plant life in the park.
Proposed for 960 Franklin Avenue, the two 34-story towers would have blocked sunlight from reaching vast portions of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.
Additionally, the towers would cast a shadow over many other areas throughout Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, including nearby Jackie Robinson Playground, M.S. 375, and the campus of Medgar Evers College.
This past week, opponents of the project finally declared victory in the “Fight for Sunlight.”
First, Borough President Eric Adams stated his opposition to the plan. Although the borough president only plays an advisory role in the land-use process, Adams disapproval was a strong sign of waning support.
An official statement from Adams office explained that while new development on underutilized land is welcome when it offers affordable housing or other positive benefits, the towers at 960 Franklin were without precedent.
But the towers were dealt a much bigger blow when the City Planning Commission voted against the project.
In a last-ditch effort to salvage the project, real estate developer The Continuum Company proposed a revised plan for the tower that was 17 stories tall. The City Planning Commission rejected this proposal as well.
“The proposal is not only inappropriate for this location,” said Marisa Lago, chair of the City Planning Commission, “but also casts extensive shadows over the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens’ greenhouses and conservatories, which are unique, sunlight sensitive receptors.”

Garden proves that Woodhaven always remembers

The Garden of Remembrance is one of Woodhaven’s oldest Memorial Day traditions, spanning at least seven decades.
Created by American Legion Post 118, the Garden at at 91st Street and 89th Avenue consists of white markers with the names of soldiers killed in action, as well as members of the Post who are longer with us.
Over time, the Garden has grown to a few hundred markers. And in recent years, as members of the post grew older, the honor of erecting the Garden passed to the Junior ROTC of Franklin K. Lane High School.
Last year, due to COVID-19, the Garden of Remembrance was not erected, the first time in 70-plus years it was not on display for Memorial Day.
And it appeared that due to the cancellation of after-school programs over the past year, the Junior ROTC was not going to be available and the Garden would not see the light of day for the second year in a row.
It’s a quirky thing about the ending of traditions. They don’t end with any fanfare, there’s never any announcement. There’s never even any acknowledgement that something special is ending.
The people who were used to a tradition being a part of their lives quickly become used to the tradition going away. It just stops one year and then stops for another.
And then it fades away. Like Anniversary Day Parades. Like Rollback Days.
That’s why it was important for the Garden of Remembrance to be assembled this year, especially right now, coming out of a long dark year in which so many of us have lost so much. We couldn’t afford to lose this unique and beautiful tribute. We couldn’t take that chance.
And so this past Saturday, a group of local residents had the honor of taking part in this tradition, joining members of Post 118 to place the white markers in the front yard of their headquarters at 91st Street and 89th Avenue.
It was a very hot morning and there was a lot of work to be done. Using stakes and ropes to line up the markers, we started in one corner and slowly made our way across the yard.
Each marker has a name and a story of its own, and behind every marker is a family that grieved. Some of those families are no longer around, but many are. In fact, one of the volunteers had the honor of installing the marker dedicated to her great-grandfather.
Back in 2017, I received an email from a man whose uncle, Lieutenant Harry Schmitt, was killed in a plane crash in July 1958. He was stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware at the time. He was just 19 and looking forward to a trip back home to Woodhaven.
Harry Schmitt went to St. Thomas the Apostle and Franklin K. Lane and had a job delivering the Leader-Observer. In a tribute to this young man, the Leader wrote: “As a boy, Harry had become known to everyone in the office. From the first day when he took his papers out on his route, his spirit of affable friendliness endeared him to everyone.”
That Memorial Day, we looked in the Garden of Remembrance for a marker with Harry Schmitt’s name and we found one.
We sent pictures of it to the family and they were very touched. It meant a great deal to them that over the decades, Woodhaven remembered. Year after year since his death, American Legion Post 118 honored Harry Schmitt and all the other heroes that were no longer with us.
The following Memorial Day, 60 years after young Lieutenant Harry Schmitt perished, his family returned to Woodhaven for the Memorial Day ceremony. Post 118 added a nice new nameplate to Harry So it was important that the Garden of Remembrance returned this year. It was important to show that Woodhaven always remembers.
If you pass by the Garden, please take a moment to stop and look at all the markers. Try not to notice that some of the rows are slightly out of alignment or a bit askew, starting off closer together than they end up.
Take notice of the names and remember. Woodhaven always remembers.

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