A Free Tree on Earth Day

A family in attendance picked out a tree to plant at home. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

By Iryna Shkurhanishkurhan@queensledger.com 

For Earth Day on April 22, Queens locals lined up at the Queens Botanical Garden parking lot in Flushing to secure a small tree to take home. 

The Tree Giveaway event was sponsored by the New York Restoration Program, a nonprofit  organization working to promote urban agriculture, restore parks and renovate gardens. It was one of dozens of tree giveaways spread across all five boroughs from April to May annually. 

All eight tree species up for grabs are native to the New York region and include Sycamore, Willow Oak, and Honey Locust trees. The Eastern Redbud variety was first to go, with attendees expressing a strong desire for its delicate pink blossoms in the spring season. Plum trees and Black Cherry trees, which produce harvestable fruits, were also in high demand. 

A volunteer at the event warned takers that planting one of the trees outside of the region could be disruptive to the ecosystem and become invasive. With each tree volunteers handed off, they made sure to ask when and where it would be planted to ensure the tree would thrive in its new home.

“It’s nice because it brings people together,” said Kimberly Guaman while holding a Flowering Dogwood tree in a two-gallon container. “Especially on Earth Day.”

Kimberly Guaman plans to plant the tree she reserved at the Sunnyside church she volunteers at. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

Guaman says that she will plant the tree she picked up outside of the Queen of Angels Church on Skillman Ave. in Sunnyside where she volunteers in her spare time.

Many of the attendees reserved one of 200 available trees online weeks before the event. Others who were unable to secure the reservation expressed disappointment at how fast the reservations filled up. But they still showed up in hopes of securing an unclaimed tree.

According to volunteers, the remaining trees were first-come first-serve until all were distributed. The second hour of the event was reserved for those who missed the chance to register in advance. 

Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, who represents eastern Queens, co-sponsored the event with the Queens Botanical Garden. She could not attend the giveaway due to observance of Shabbat, according a representative from her office. 

Two professors from Queensborough Community College, Joan Petersen and Mercedes Franco, signed up to volunteer at the event in an effort to get more involved in environmental initiatives in the community. Peterson also recruited students in her biology research program to volunteer at the event. 

Eight tree species were up for grabs. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

Maha Almaflehi, a first year Queensborough student said this is her first time ever volunteering. She plans to plant the Dogwood tree she reserved in the backyard of her Flushing home. 

“If we don’t do something to help the environment, nothing else is going to matter,” said Petersen, who teaches Environmental Science and Ecology. “If we don’t have a good healthy environment to live in, nobody’s gonna survive.”

Queens Botanical Garden receives historic donation

$8 million provided for outreach and educational programming

By Alicia Venter


The Queens Botanical Garden is receiving a historic $8 million donation to fund their programming and outreach efforts in the coming years.

Jamaica-based non-profit Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation donated the $8 million, an amount that Queens Botanical Garden Executive Director Evie Hantzopoulos believes to be one of the largest donations given to any cultural organization in Queens.

With this donation, the Queens Botanical Garden plans to strategize the programming and educational services that will be provided to a variety of different Queens residents.

“One of the things that I’ve observed and I believe in is how much potential this garden has,” Hantzopoulos said. “It’s already considered such an important resource and space for the community here in Flushing and in Queens. Through this very generous gift that we are going to receive, it’s going to open up a bunch of opportunities for us to serve.”

The Queens Botanical Garden is set to receive an upgrade in the next few years, as the city is funding a new educational building to replace its current outdated center. This donation will allow there to be no time wasted once these doors are opened, as the donation will primarily serve to fund this location’s programming.

Though they are currently “at the mercy of the city” for its completion, Hantzopoulos shared that the new education center, which will be named after the Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation, is set to be completed two years after its groundbreaking. The date of the groundbreaking is currently unconfirmed, but construction is anticipated to begin in early 2024.

“We will be able to expand our capacity to serve New York City school children through tours, through workshops and through educational programs. We will be able to do some adult education as well,” Hantzopoulos said. “I think what’s really wonderful is that not only do we have this new building but we will also be able to staff and operate it. From day one that the building opens, we will be able to serve all the guests who come.”

The garden does currently have an education building, though outdated, and they will be developing and piloting new programming with the funding while the construction of the new building is underway.

Hantzopoulos told the Leader-Observer that the funding will directly benefit

underrepresented areas in Queens — specifically Jamaica and the Rockaways as requested by the donors.

“The Bluestone family… wanted to give something back to those communities as well. Through this gift, we will be doing some extra special outreach to those communities.”

The Queens Botanical Garden will work with the community within public schools, Hantzopoulos shared, in order to promote sustainability and present the opportunities they provide. They are looking at the engagement of communities who haven’t been coming to the garden as much as others, Hantzopoulos said.

The goal, with this funding, is simple to Hantzopoulos.

“Our hope is that we are going to reach more people,” she said.

The garden, she explained, is on the cutting edge of environmentally sustainable practices. They are completely organic, with strategies to not waste water and composting on site, continually working to manage their resources and reduce their carbon footprint. They were the first publicly funded LEED platinum certified building in New York City in 2007, and had the first publicly accessible green roof in the city, Hantzopoulos explained.

“This is the way our city needs to go in order to become more energy efficient, manage our resources better and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Hantzopoulos said. “In addition to bringing more people to the  garden… we also want to continue leading the way in terms of environmental sustainability as we face the existential crisis of climate change.”

The Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation was formed in 2022 to foster the education of disadvantaged children and young adults in New York City. Joan was a longtime volunteer and donor at the Queens Botanical Garden, serving on its Board of Directors for many years, and she died in 2020.

Norman was a founding member of The Bluestone Organization, a Queens-based real estate company — he died in 2011.

The Queens Botanical Garden is located on 39 acres of city land at the northeast corner of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

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