Largest Greenhouse in city reopens in Forest Park
by Lisa A. Fraser
May 02, 2012 | 2139 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo by Michael O'Kane
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The largest production greenhouse in the city – located in Forest Park – reopened its doors on Monday, April 30, unveiling to the community its reconstruction and new features, all aimed at helping the greenhouse grow up to 50,000 more plants and flowers, which it distributes to parks throughout Queens and Brooklyn.

Parks officials, joined by representatives of local elected officials, community members and students in the third and sixth grades of the local St. John's Evangelical Lutheran School, cut the green ribbon, marking the official opening of the Queens Greenhouse.

“The Forest Park Greenhouse has provided plants and flowers to our parks for more than a century,” said Adrian Benepe, Parks Department commissioner. “Thanks to funding we have restored this building and outfitted it with the latest “green” technology that will allow us to continue greening the city for the next 100 years.”

Located behind the Forest Park Carousel, the greenhouse was originally designed by Lord & Burnham, a noted American boiler and greenhouse manufacturer and builder of public conservatories in the United States.

It was built between 1904-1905. Since then it has served as the sole distributor of flowers to Queens and Brooklyn parks, as well as special events like the U.S. Open and the Borough President’s State of the Borough speech.

The $3.88 million renovation converted the deteriorating, century-old greenhouse into a state-of-the-art facility.

“When I visited the last greenhouse, I said to myself, 'we have to do better than this,'” Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said.

The facility was closed during the five-year renovation. It now boasts more benches for plants to grow, a new ventilation system that will prolong the growing season, a redesigned interior to increase the building’s growing capacity, a computerized drip-irrigation system that can be programmed to the watering needs of individual plants, and a more efficient heating system that will decrease the building’s energy footprint.

Mark Ford, the park’s supervisor and overseer of the greenhouse, also noted the facility’s acrylic thermal panels instead of glass, which reduces the amount of UV light that comes through.

“It’s a huge difference,” he said. “We’ve waited a long time for this to happen.”

The newly renovated greenhouse will allow the space to grow approximately 250,000 annuals and perennials – 50,000 more than what was grown in the past and a 25 percent increase.

“This is an incredible operation,” said Queens Park Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski. “In this facility we don’t only grow the flowers, we also design the garden beds.” The greenhouse has six gardeners and two assistant gardeners that tend to the plants.

“[The greenhouse] has been an educational source of horticulture information for thousands of individuals, including seniors and students,” State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who allocated money for the renovation while in the City Council, said in a statement. “I look forward to working with those interested in preserving this community gem.”

Community Board 9 District Manager MaryAnn Carey, said that she was proud to see the project come to fruition, noting that Parks projects are always among the top priorities on the board’s capital and expense budget.

“I think they did a wonderful job,” said Gary Giordano, Community Board 5’s district manager. The board has been in support of the project for years. “To go inside and see all those beautiful plants, I feel like I’m in heaven.”

St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran School principal Ben Herbrich and science teacher Carol Tate plan on bringing the students to the park and greenhouse to observe and teach them about the plants.

“We figure coming in and talking to the experts here will boost our efforts with that,” Tate said. “It’s a great way to break away a little from the book and from the Internet.”

Currently, three main houses comprise the greenhouse. Lewandowski said one more house needs to be restored and hopes to get funding for that.

Lewandowski also said that she would like to secure funding in the future to make upgrades to the “Palm House,” which houses larger, tropical plants and is situated in the center of the facility.

“With that restored,” she said, “I’d love at some point to be able to do some educational programs.”
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