New York Restoration Project: A Gardener's Journal


Omar B., a zone gardener with the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), shares entries from the journal he keeps about his work with the environmental non-profit founded by Bette Midler in 1995 to preserve and transform public green spaces in New York for all citizens to enjoy. His writing gives us a day-to-day peak inside the inner workings of what it is like to maintain and care for some of the most cherished community green spaces and gardens in New York City. In his own words:

My role in the New York Restoration Project is as a zone gardener. I do maintenance work inside the garden such as litter patrols, assisting carpentry work, pruning, cutbacks, planting, watering, and any other tasks assigned by our deputy director. I had one summer of landscaping experience prior to working a NYRP on my college campus at SUNY Plattsburgh, but I was pretty new to urban gardening. My favorite part about working at NYRP is meeting enthusiastic community garden members and learning so much about plants and community lifestyles surrounding the garden.  

Goldman Sachs Volunteer Day 
Highbridge Park 

Arrived two hours before the event to set up tools for mulching tree pits alongside the bike path at Highbridge Park (next to the Harlem River Drive). I arrived at 8 am and we set up around 50 shovels, hard rakes, five scoop shovels, some hand tools like trowels, weeding tools, coolers, hand sanitizer, bug spray, porta-sans, wheel arrows, and small plant containers for the Goldman Sachs volunteers. We dropped off a huge pile of wood mulch. I did a litter patrol before the volunteers arrived to my section to make the work more clear and direct. I instructed them to pull out the weeds three feet away from the tree. After they fully removed the weeds and clipped suckers around the base of the tree, they flipped the topsoil with their shovels. They continued doing that for about an hour and half.

We went back to the mulch pile and filled the wheel barrows with mulch. Each wheel barrow was dumped at their designated tree pit over the top soil. We did that for another hour and a half and then had lunch at 1:00 pm. We had two water breaks for volunteers from 10 am-1 pm. We completed our task and took the rest of the day to clean up. We used the scoop shovels to get the leftover mulch from the big mulch pile and picked up all the hand tools and dropped them off at the home site. Then we took two more trips picking up porta-sans driving a steady fifteen mph with the porta-sans in the truck. Another crew picked up the wheelbarrows, containers, and other tools. We cleaned up the home site, and finished the day around 4:00 pm.

Pernod Volunteer Day
Highbridge Park 
I arrived at Sherman Creek Center at 7:00 am. I assisted Lannie and Nolan with moving eight porta-sans into three different sites for the volunteer event. That took four trips from Sherman Creek to Highbridge Polo Grounds/Bradhurst sites. We unloaded the porta-sans and plants. Around 300 Pernod volunteers showed up to help out. Our supervisors placed us in specific locations where they believe we were most needed. The event began at 8:00 am and we started weeding out most of the knotweed visible in the pictures. We had a huge tarp that we collected knotweed in to dispose of it. We finished weeding certain areas and started tilling and aerating the soil.   

Around 12:30 pm we had removed all the weeds and finished placing the plants in their specific locations in preparation for planting. We took a 45 minute lunch break with the volunteers. We ate at the buffet with everyone and listened to speeches thanking everyone for their help.  

After lunch, we started making trails with wood chips. We then applied compost on the outside of the trail. Once we finished putting down compost, we started placing the plants along the trail. After Mony gave a great demonstration of proper planting techniques, the volunteers began planting along the trail. Around 2:30 pm the volunteers started packing up and the NYRP Staff and AmeriCorps volunteers helped to finish planting. By 4:00 pm, we finished loading up all our tools and headed back to SCC. Great work day, a lot of hard team work.  

Suffolk Tree Removal 
Suffolk Garden, Lower East Side 

We started the day in Brooklyn. Loaded up a hedge trimmer, extendable chainsaw, extendable pole saw, fan rakes, and chainsaw. Once we got to Suffolk, we unloaded the tools and quickly picked up litter surrounding the garden. We started cutting the smaller branches with the extendable chainsaw only to find out the blade was too dull. SHARPEN TOOLS BEFORE ARRIVING ON SITE. Luckily, we brought the extendable pole saw and continued cutting the smaller branches before taking the chainsaw to the main trunk. Once the stump was the only thing left, we started picking up the bigger branches and loading them into our truck bed. Then we raked the remaining smaller branches into a pop-up bag and disposed of the mess. We did the same thing for the other tree. 

We surveyed the rest of the garden for further work to be done and noticed vines growing excessively on the pergola. We cut the excessive vines and wrapped the vines with tine against the pergola. Great day. 
Google Volunteers help with Tree Pits and Aberdeen Garden
East New York 

We arrived at our office at 7:45 am and packed up the truck with garbage bags, soft/heavy rakes, shovels, aerators, leaf blower, trowels, weeding tools, and pitchforks.  

We arrived at the Abderdeen Garden at 8:20 am. We set up all the tools besides the entrance for volunteers, then we split up into four groups of six. Jess gave a demonstration on how to properly fill a tree pit. After the demonstration my group got to work on the tree pits on the opposite side of the street.  

We began weeding the tree pits. Once pits were properly weeded, we began aerating softly on the top layer of soil, making sure not to damage the tree roots underneath. We added compost over the soil to nourish the tree roots. Finally, we spread wood chips, not only for the aesthetic look but to keep the moisture within the roots as well as prevent weeds. We continued that process on both sides of the sidewalk from Aberdeen all the way to Broadway.

We also planted a Pee Gee hydrangea towards the front of the garden. Started shortly digging a hole, unfortunately hitting a huge rock. We had to dig out the huge rock (which took around thirty minutes) and planted the Pee Gee.  

Snack/water break at 11:00 am. Then began weeding towards the back of Aberdeen. A huge amount of knotweed was removed. For knotweed removal it's important you don't just pull the weed out from the stem, you need to go underneath the stem and really make sure you grab the root. The knotweed root system is unique in a way where the roots break off horizontally within the ground before sprouting again. Given this fact, it's imperative you properly weed or you will ineffectively make your gardening job more difficult next time weeding that location.  

After that, we took pictures and said our goodbyes. Personally, I learned a lot that day, and when working with volunteers, communication is the most important factor. Julie, Kayla, and Jess' speech introducing the project in the morning was very effective. This motivated inexperienced or shy gardeners to get in the field. Our crew did a good job throughout the day interacting with volunteers who seemed confused or hesitant with their assignment. It's very important to start on a good note to keep volunteers motivated for the duration of the project.  

Weed removal 
Downtown Brooklyn 
Bridge Plaza Garden 

We arrived at Bridge Plaza. The garden was infested with weeds. Gardens that are infested with weeds need consistent weed removal once or twice a month depending on the size of the garden. I used a weeding tool that looked like a long nose prong to get the weeds that were harder to pull.  

In-ground Bench
East New York, Brooklyn 
Essex Garden 

First built two small structures at the Brooklyn Shop to bring to the Essex Garden (see pictures). Arrived at Essex garden in Brooklyn, New York. Emptied out the truck with the exact tools needed: post hole digger, mini shovel, measuring tape, and tool bag. It's a hot day so we brought extra water. We watered the garden first, then started digging holes the same width as the cement place holders. We placed the structures in the holes and then mixed water and cement into each rectangular place holder. It usually takes one day for the cement to dry. Then we removed the wooden concrete holders with a hammer, hitting it gently enough to not mess up the cement. We placed the bench back on top of the concrete and drilled the bench into the cement.

Watering Day 
Heckshire Garden, LDC Garden, Suffolk Garden, Target Garden, Garden Of Hope, Jane Bailey, and Green Gorillas

Temperatures are in the high 90s today. Heat advisory and air quality alert today. Our crew split up into three groups to tackle fifteen gardens in Brooklyn and Queens. We loaded the necessary tools for the job: water tank, motor for water tank, fan rakes, garbage bags, toolbox, litter grabbers, and cold ice water for crew members. When watering we made sure to water each spot for at least twenty seconds before coming back. When watering plants I make sure to water the roots directly rather than the leaves - this affects the nutrient spreading to the plant.

-Story contributed by Omar B.

Photos Show

In-ground bench at the Essex Garden

In-ground bench at the Essex Garden

Omar and his NYRP colleagues placed a new bench in this community garden in Brooklyn, New York. [View Additional File Details]

Volunteers celebrate their hard work

Volunteers celebrate their hard work

Volunteering with New York Restoration Project gardeners. [View Additional File Details]

Community garden in New York City

Community garden in New York City

One of the many community gardens under the care of the New York Restoration Project [View Additional File Details]

Tree work

Tree work

Pernod volunteer day with NYRP

Pernod volunteer day with NYRP

Volunteers assist NYRP staff with weeding, planting, and building trails at Highbridge Park in Washington Heights, New York. [View Additional File Details]

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“New York Restoration Project: A Gardener's Journal ,” Community of Gardens, accessed April 17, 2024, https:/​/​communityofgardens.​si.​edu/​items/​show/​12287.​
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