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Volunteers prepare botanical garden for season

By Tom Momberg

Bright blue skies and mild weather were the mark of spring’s turning point Sunday, when volunteer groups turned out to prepare the Queens Botanical Garden for the season.

Between the 50 volunteers at the Botanical Garden’s 5th-annual March for the Earth and the clean-up efforts of communities around the borough, Sunday’s Equinox Earth Day was the pinnacle of the season, a month before Earth Day arrives.

“As of lately, we’ve been paying a lot more attention to the environment and that we need to take care of the planet that we live on,” said volunteer Noah Wright. “It’s good to see a collective effort in our communities to work toward a greener earth.”

Wright studies actuarial sciences at the Staten Island campus of St. John’s University. He joined several other members of St. John’s Actuarial Club Sunday for one of its service projects. He said he could think of nothing better to do on such a nice day.

Queens Botanical Garden’s annual March for the Earth was created in partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2011, and has become fundamental to the garden’s operations.

“We say that it’s in celebration of the Vernal Equinox, but it’s really in helping prepare our gardens for our opening weekend April 1,” said Regina Forlenza, the garden’s public programs manager.

“I’m not so sure that the other botanical gardens have as much of an emphasis on volunteering. We were built by volunteers — we are run by volunteers, so it’s definitely a core of what we do,” she said.

Among the volunteers were students of Queens College’s Urban Studies Department; John Bowne High School in Flushing, which specializes in agricultural sciences; and Baruch College, as well as St. John’s University.

“We have a lot of individuals with a personal interest in the spirit of volunteerism and a lot of colleges,” Forlenza said. “They seem to come from across the five boroughs.”

Forlenza said partnerships with high schools and higher education are important for making the botanical gardens available for everyone. The garden composts city organic waste, has a fully functioning year-round greenhouse and just launched a fully operational farm last year, without which the organization’s growing efforts as a community educator would not be possible.

Besides the initial activity in March, open calls for volunteers at the garden start with Earth Day April 22, followed by June 7, as well as in late September.

For ongoing volunteer opportunities, the Botanical Garden is now accepting applications for the seasons. Forlenza said it is important that anyone interested apply by late April so volunteers can be trained in horticulture.

Visit online at www.queensbotanical.org to find volunteer applications as well as information on general admission, programs and events.

Jake Youngman, also at the gardens for a service project with St. John’s, said volunteering will be important to the way gardens and community green spaces are operated in cities as they become ever so important.

“I think it’s definitely going to be more of a trend in urban planning as we move forward into the future — having a lot more space for greenery, more spaces for gardens,” Youngman said. “It’s particularly important as urbanization continues to affect more people and city populations grow.”

Youngman and Wright worked with several volunteers to weed and mulch the areas around the Botanical Garden’s permeable, sustainable parking garden.

Wei Zhou (Miller) joined, too, in order to satisfy his civic engagement project requirements with Pace University, but also in hope of learning a little about horticulture and gardening sustainable food.

“I chose to do this for my project, because I thought that I might have a chance to plant something and get my hands dirty. You can learn anything you want about the earth, but until you get down here and work, you aren’t going to know that much,” Miller said.

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