Susan Lacerte, director of the Queens Botanical Garden, is reflecting on her nearly three decades of leadership at the green oasis in the heart of Flushing, as she will retire from her position at the end of the month.
Lacerte, who described herself as a “plant-loving girl from Connecticut whose color from birth was green,” first walked on the grounds of Queens Botanical Garden (QBG), located at 43-50 Main St., on July 11, 1994.
She did not imagine that she would be there for 27 years.
“I will be retiring in September and moving to Maine with my husband, to be nearer to our twins, other family and friends,” Lacerte said in a statement. “I have cherished my time in Queens, getting to know you, mingling at member events, concerts, festivals, galas and more, sharing in the magic of this borough and its people, and in helping the garden grow and expand its presence in the city and the world.”
Lacerte began working at QBG in 1984, serving as an intern and children’s garden coordinator for about eight months.
“As director, I have delighted in telling successive classes of interns that you just never know where life will take you — sometimes you end up back where you started!” Lacerte said.
From a young age, Lacerte loved stories about how people use plants and at QBG, she was in a living laboratory where “people, plants and cultures meet” — which became the garden’s vision that she adopted in 1997.
For Lacerte, it has been a privilege and honor to serve as the leader of QBG.
Among her many major accomplishments during her nearly three decades at the Garden includes leading the installation of the perimeter fence and tree sculpture gate in 2002.
She also set a new benchmark for sustainability with the opening of the Visitor & Administration Building in 2007. It became NYC’s first public building to achieve Platinum LEED certification.
For over 25 years, she fostered the NYC Compost Project at the garden, and developed new gardens in the 39-acre oasis, including the Kaltman Fragrance Walk, Circle of Garden, Four Seasons Border, Sustainable Rose Garden and Unity Garden.
Lacerte also presented newly paved pathways in a $5.5 million project to welcome the next wave of visitors to QBG.
Recently, Lacerte launched the design development and capital campaign for the upcoming Education Center Building, which will greatly enhance the garden’s environmental education efforts. The building is slated to open in 2024.
Under her leadership, QBG became one of the first cultural institutions in the city to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic in July 2021, welcoming over 117,000 people to date.
The pandemic had presented significant challenges to the organization’s staffing, finances and operations. It was temporarily closed during the height of the pandemic to help curb the spread of the virus.
According to Lacerte, the garden is once again bursting with activity such as graduations, weddings, classes, farming, planting projects and, of course, flowers.
“Queens Botanical Garden is doing well. It is a joy to see how so many cherish this beautiful and tranquil open space, and value it for the healthfulness of being able to be outdoors and moving, or perhaps sitting on a bench,” Lacerte said.
While looking back and celebrating Lacerte’s achievements at QBG, staff and trustees are also currently conducting a search for the next executive director to lead the cultural organization.
“Thanks to Susan’s leadership, the garden has been transformed from a nearly forgotten space into an urban oasis that welcomes hundreds of thousands of people to the heart of Queens,” said Raymond D. Jasen, QBG board chair. “It is a testament to what Susan has achieved that so many incredibly talented people from all over the country have applied to become our next executive director to help us to build on the garden’s achievements in the years to come.”
In honor of her nearly three decades of remarkable management, the garden is also holding a special fundraising campaign. They’re inviting the public to participate in the event.
“Susan has always said that her greatest wish was $1,000,000 for Queens Botanical Garden. So, in honor of her retirement and all she’s done for the garden, we’re trying our very best to see how close we come to making her wish come true,” said Olivia Cothren, QBG director of development.
According to Lacerte, QBG will forever be in her heart, and will “continue to cheer on the Queens Botanical Garden.”