Photo by Carlotta Mohamed/QNS
(From l. to r.) State Assemblyman David Weprin, Borough President Melinda Katz, State Assemblymembers Jeffrion Aubry and Nily Rozic, QBG Executive Director Susan Lacerte and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, at the official opening of the QBG Unity Garden.

Flushing Queens Botanical Garden (QBG) officials and local leaders celebrated on Thursday the official opening of the newly renovated Unity Garden with a green ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

Located in the Gardens on Parade Section at QBG (an area originally modeled after the five-acre exhibit showcased at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair) the zone features a new design with a circle of a lawn, surrounded by six elegant 1964 World’s Fair-style benches, pathways, and a combination of plants that do well in shade and sun. 

QBG Executive Director Susan Lacerte was joined by Assemblymembers Nily Rozic and Jeffrion Aubry, who contributed a total of $250,000 for the Unity Garden. Special guests included Borough President Melinda Katz, Assemblyman David Weprin, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and QBG board members. 

“I’m very happy to see this happen,” said Pauline Huang, QBG board chair. “When we were here before, this was a rock garden. But now there are benches, trees, a lot of designs. It happened because of all of your contributions, your passion and efforts that made this happened. This is the only garden in Queens and am so proud to be here today and will be here forever.”

The green ribbon-cutting ceremony officially marking the opening of the Unity Garden (Photo by Carlotta Mohamed)

Installed in the 1970s, the garden was in much need of renovation, according to Lacerte. In 2015, Lacerte took a trip to Albany and presented a capital proposal to Aubry, and also received support from Rozic. The project was in part funded by a grant from the lawmakers and the remaining support was provided by private funds, totaling $375,000. 

Assemblymembers Jeffrion Aubry and Nily Rozic by the Unity Garden (Photo by Carlotta Mohamed)

“It really was a team effort to keep this place up and running and for everyone who has come to enjoy the garden, we know and appreciate all of the hard work,” Rozic said. “$250,000 might not sound like a lot, but clearly fitting amongst this Unity Garden it really goes a long way in bringing the outside in and inside out. It’s all about creating the social infrastructure for community members to come sit, enjoy and relax.” 

For Aubry, it’s importance to support hidden treasures in communities that may not get the spotlight as much as other places in the city, he said. 

“We in Queens know that it’s a special place [a hidden gem] and a place where everyone can come and find solace, comfort and enjoy the environment,” Aubry said.  

Renowned Botanical Garden consultant W. Gary Smith and landscape architect Harriet Grimm created the design of the Unity Garden working in consort with QBG Horticulture staff Morgan Potter and her team; local landscapers, Scenic Designs, implemented the renovation. 

“It was a privilege getting to work with such talented designers,” Potter said. “Gary Smith and Harriet Grimm brought a fresh and inspiring perspective to the Garden, tying spaces together and really setting in motion the idea of the Gardens on Parade as a unified space. Plants flow from one section to the next connecting the gardens to each other, but perhaps more importantly, connecting people to the space, an idea we’re running with as we renovate other nearby areas.

The Unity Garden also incorporates existing trees and shrubs in former Backyard Garden, two faux bois benches, and a variety of ferns and perennials. One of the trees is a rare Franklinia tree (Franklinia alatamaha), named after Benjamin Franklin and no longer found in the wild. Other highlights include witch hazel, Japanese painted ferns, and two cherry plum trees. The circle at the heart of the new design is a symbol familiar to all cultures and one that sends a message of unity and welcome to all who visit. 

“When we walked in and saw a bunch of little children playing, you immediately feel better about the world. You feel a little bit happier and this garden and places like this are the only thing that is going to save us from the madness in the world right now,” Van Bramer said. 

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