Tree giveaway inspires Forest Hills
by Michael Perlman
May 29, 2013 | 5740 views | 1 1 comments | 110 110 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sandra Mandell
Sandra Mandell
On May 19, the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, in collaboration with New York Restoration Project and MillionTreesNYC, hosted its fourth Forest Hills Tree Giveaway at MacDonald Park.

Just over 200 trees were donated by 25 volunteers in a record-breaking 90 minutes, and the rain did little to place a damper among residents in the two lines that formed from the center of the park to Queens Boulevard.

Adopted trees were planted outside homes in the days that followed, enhancing streets creating a more sustainable environment. Also planted were stories that will unfold over generations, inspiring and bonding community residents.

Karyn Slutsky, assistant director of the Queens Paideia School, asked her youngest students to design tree-inspired artwork for the giveaway.

“We wanted them to think like advertisers and convince people of all the benefits of having more trees around us,” she said.

Some of the student’s slogans were “A place to find the sun through the leaves” and “A place to cool down.”Art Instructor Donna Levinstone envisioned hanging the work on a string to resemble lanterns.

“Her idea of using large circles was to give viewers the sense that they were peeking into windows of important messages,” said Slutsky.

Sandra Mandell owns Oliloli Arts & Crafts Studio at 103-23 Metropolitan Avenue. In the coming weeks, the studio will expand into the shop’s secret garden with the help of Kiel Bros. Mandell’s two adopted trees will become a focal element.

“I would love to coordinate a tree planting ceremony with an art project, and I hope the rustic space with a seating area will serve as a sanctuary for our community to get inspired and create art,” said Mandell.

In advance of the tree giveaway, she collaborated with Annie Marshall, a New York State-certified art educator who designed a mixed media canvas depicting trees with earth tones.

The event also inspired Forest Hills apartment buildings to hold tree-planting ceremonies. First-time tree giveaway volunteer Yolanda Vega coordinated one such ceremony at her building, The Fontaine Gardens at 100-11 67th Road. Residents Nadia Grebenyuk and Daniel Cifuentes each adopted a Dawn Redwood to plant in their spacious front courtyard, in place of trees that succumbed to old age.

At least 20 residents participated in the 10-minute ceremony. “The purpose of involving residents in a ceremony was to create a sense of community and respect for our trees,” said Vega.

Vega lived in The Fontaine for 12 years, and it's not the first time she's planted something on the grounds.

“Ever since my son would buy plants from his school's plant sale, I began to adopt a plot of land on the side of my building,” she said. “We would always plant Marigolds and Geraniums, and I would use this opportunity to teach him about the importance of plants. He loved watching them grow, and during times of drought, we would water them.”

Now, Vega envisions the Dawn Redwoods maturing along with the children of her building, who will witness their growth.

Quality Gardens and Ruskin Gardens co-ops, which is bounded by Yellowstone Boulevard and 108th Street between 66th Road and 67th Road, has been adopting trees since the first giveaway in 2011.

Designed in 1951 by architect Arthur Weiser, his vision was to provide sufficient space for residents while maximizing green space and neighborliness. This was accomplished by courtyards accessible from the street.

Marie Trope-Podell, Patricia Willis, and other residents are determined to help restore that vision by beautifying their grounds. At the most recent event, they adopted a Persian Ironwood and five Witch-Hazels, and then coordinated a tree-planting ceremony.

The event inspired Trope-Podell to create a new blog,, which will document Willis’ landscape restoration work over the last five years and their partnership. It will feature the type of plants, choice of location, and the benefits of pruning. She hopes the blog will encourage other residents to fulfill their civic duties.

“A green community is a happier community simply because the air is cleaner and summers are cooler, but trees and other green spaces engage community members in so many ways,” she said. “This is incredibly rewarding as plants respond to both skilled cultivation and TLC. Caring is contagious, and it will breed respect for the block or neighborhood.”

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May 29, 2013
Thanks for the history bit! I didn't know that about our co-op. The lay out is indeed rather different from all the other buildings in our neighborhood. Only one other, the Verona I think, has that open green space (now gated though). Our gardens connect beautifully with the urban forest. Actually the are part of the urban forest.

I love the school story!