Randalls Island Park Alliance

Archive for the ‘New Ideas and Expansions’ Category


In New Ideas and Expansions on May 23, 2013 at 7:50 pm

profile-1110By Phyllis Odessey

People lost their homes, their lives, their electricity, their cars, their pets due to Hurricane Sandy. We lost plants.

On Wednesday, we hosted 14 volunteers from Goldman Sachs Community Teamworks to plant  The Waterfront Garden, which sustained a certain amount of damage from Sandy.

Although we are surrounded by the water, Hurricane Sandy did not cause as much damage as Battery Park or Brooklyn Bridge Park.  We were very lucky.  We watched and waited to see what plants would make it or which would not.

I like to be scientific about these things, but some plants do have a life span and some of ours had come naturally to the end of their lives.  Others were damaged by Sandy and died.IMG_0536

Goldman Sachs Community Teamworks volunteers have been coming to Randalls’ for 15 years.  They have planted gardens and trees, mulched, removed debris and regraded slopes.  We knew they would be up to the task at hand; 6,000 perennials for the waterfront garden.  This sounds like a large number and for a residential situation it is.  But we deal in big numbers on Randalls Island.  Our land mass is half the size of Central Park.  It takes a lot of plants and shrubs to make a garden.

IMG_0548The Waterfront Garden has approximately 150,000 perennials and 50,000 fall and spring blooming bulbs.  This garden was created by Eunyoung Sebazco, Horticulture Manager and myself when we came to Randall’s Island seven years.  Over the last seven years, Goldman Sachs volunteers have been coming to The Waterfront Garden to plant and mulch.  We knew they could plant 6,000 perennials and by 2:30 pm, we were finished and walking back to Icahn Stadium to say goodbye.

We thank all our wonderful volunteers for participating and making The Waterfront Garden, what it has always been:  a showcase, our Randall’s Island Park Alliance “greeting” to visitors walking or biking over the pedestrian bridge at 102 st. and most especially, a special place to sit and watch the world go by.



Color-Coded Garden: Maria Loboda

In New Ideas and Expansions, Randall's Island on May 2, 2013 at 12:14 pm


May 10-13

profile-1110By Phyllis Odessey
I’ve worked on Randall’s Island for over 6 years.  Every year brings surprises.  2012 was the first year the Frieze Art Fair was held on Randall’s Island.  Freize transforms the event lawn with the largest tent erected in the Northeast.  Cecilia Alemani is the curator of Freize Projects, a program of artists’ commissions.  The participating artists in 2013 are;  Liz Blynn, Maria Loboda, Mateo Tannatt, Andra Ursuta, Marianne Vitale.  The program also includes a special tribute to legendary artist run restaurant Food, originally conceived by Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Godden in 1971 and an original text by novelist Ben Marcus.

We have been helping Maria Loboda install her project:  Color-Coded Garden.  Two of our staff members, James C. and James N. have been working with Maria laying out plants that arrived from Otto Kiel Nursery yesterday.

Maria Loboda’s work analyzes systems of communications, underscoring the transformative power of languages and codes. Reflecting upon the relationship between nature and verbal communication, Loboda has realized a number of works in which the natural world is analyzed through the lens of language. Taking as inspiration the lush parkland of Randall’s Island, the artist will turn an area of the park into a color-coded garden, an exact replica of an illustration of a European interior design motif from the 19th century. Interested in the precision of color mapping, the artist will translate the two-dimensional image into a living landscape of plants, flowers and shrubs, highlighting not only the relationship between interior and exterior, but also between two and three-dimensional landscapes. from freizeprojectsny.org

Here are a few snapshots of the beginning stages of the plant layout.



Bridges over Randall’s Island

In Meet The Crew, New Ideas and Expansions on April 18, 2013 at 12:07 pm

IMG_0246By James C.

My name is James Carroll and I’m a new gardener here at Randall’s Island. I’ve been learning about horticulture at the New York Botanical Gardens and the Queens Botanical Gardens and I’m very excited to be applying my gardening skills on this interesting island.

New York City is known for it’s famous bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge perhaps being the most iconic. But few are familiar with the architectural importance of the bridges over Randall’s Island. The Hell Gate Bridge and the Triborough Bridge are both unique representations of architectural styles and periods in New York History.

The violent waterway known as Hell Gate today  was originally named Hellegat by the Dutch, which could mean “hell’s hole”. Like Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, where the creek nearby was named “Devil’s Spout” or Spuitende Duivel, the Dutch commonly named waterways in the low country in this manner.Today the converging currents of the East River are still rapid, despite being cleared of obstacles in the 19th century due to hundreds of shipwrecks.

The Bridge that spans Hell Gate was originally named, less excitingly, the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge. Initiated in 1912 and completed in 1916, the bridge linked the New York and Pennsylvania Railroad with the New England and New Haven railroad lines. Architect Gustav Lindenthal’s original design of the bridge’s approach ramps included a low steel lattice structure but was soon changed after concerns that the island’s asylum inmates would climb it to escape.

When completed it was the world’s longest steel arch bridge until the opening of the Bayonne Bridge in 1931. The Hell Gate Bridge was the source of inspiration for the Sydney Harbour Bridge which is 60% larger.

Today it serves both rail and passenger traffic and trains can be seen frequently passing over our gardens and urban farm. A recently completed bike path is located under the arches of the bridge allowing bicyclist to enjoy the grandeur of the bridge up close. Long term plans are currently under way to connect the Randall’s Island path to the South Bronx bikeway in Starlight Park.


While the Hell Gate Bridge could be argued to be the original tri borough bridge, it wasn’t until 1936 when Robert moses completed the present Triboro Bridge which provides vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The main bridge that connects Ward’s Island and Astoria is a fine example of art deco themes common in the 1930’s. The stepped columns recede in a ziggurat style similar to other projects from the 1930’s such as Rockefeller Center.

One such example of Art Deco architecture can be seen on Randall’s Island at the Triboro Bridge Authority Building which was Robert Moses’ headquarters during his reign over New York City as traffic czar and “master builder.”

The original cost of the Triboro Bridge was $60 million, greater than the Hoover Damn and one of the largest public works during the Great Depression.

The bridge was renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in 2008 but is still commonly referred to as the Triboro.

This photo, taken in 1936 upon the completion of the Triboro Bridge, shows an unidentified building under the Hell Gate Bridge where our Urban Farm is  currently located. Many of the trees surrounding it have been cut down for sports fields, but many have been replanted with help from the MillionTreesNYC program.


Panorama of the Ward’s Island seen from Astoria Park, 2009

More photos and information on the Triboro Bridge at Forgotten NY here

Let’s Get Glam GLAM

In Meet The Crew, New Ideas and Expansions, Randall's Island on March 24, 2013 at 3:00 pm

dianne for blogBy Diane B.

Greetings! This is Diane, one of the 2013 Horticulture seasonal employees of Randall’s Island Park Alliance. To state a few facts about myself, I recently moved here from Delaware. Last year I graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in Plant science, with a concentration in plant propagation.

As a new and upcoming horticulturist, I was looking for a place that would expand my knowledge of what is available and also provide a lot of hands on learning experience, and that’s when I found Randall’s Island. This area seemed like the perfect place for learning about new opportunities and challenges. We’ve only been here a week and already we’re starting our first challenge of the season, planning decorative flower arrangements for the Gala.

The Gala was a charity benefit for Randall’s Island Park Alliance.  It  was held on Tuesday, March 12 at the American Natural History Museum.  Being the horticulture crew, we were given the task to providing a tropical island atmosphere using  live tropical plants for the event rooms.

The first room that needed to be setup was the cocktail area room, which was held in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda. The pictures above are the two flower arrangements that we made and placed throughout the cocktail room.



In the picture on the right, we have pincushion yellow gold (Leaucospermum) this flower is a native to the South African region where it is normally seen as an evergreen shrub and blooms between the months of November to April. The flower on the right is a King Protea (Protea cynaroides) mostly admired for its giant flower heads; it is also a South African native. These flowers are amazing  to use for flower arrangements, because of its long vase life. It is easily dried;  so you can keep it around for an even longer.

Finally, the last and final part of the project was the sixty two center pieces for the dinner tables. The centerpieces consisted of two to three inch tall wheat grass with eight poppy flowers scattered throughout the tray. The idea was to show the illusion of the flowers growing straight out of the wheat grass.

poppy centerpiece

These plants were found to be the most challenging of the entire project.  We arranged the poppies two days in advance. The poppy flower petals and stems are very fragile. Each flower had to be carefully placed and packaged within the transportation truck so they would not break during the trip to the dining tables. Luckily, we had plenty of left over poppies and any damaged stems we quickly replaced before dinner was served.

All in all I would say this project was a great success. We tackled everything with a Macgyver-esque ability and achieved our goal of providing fresh looking exotic plants for the enjoyment of the Gala patrons.

Opportunity Knocks

In New Ideas and Expansions, Water's Edge Garden, White Garden on March 22, 2013 at 1:53 pm

profile-1110By Phyllis Odessey

I am a big believer in turning a crisis into an opportunity.  This might seem Pollyannaish, but a little bit of optimism goes a long way in the field of horticulture, where disappointment, disease and destruction are part of the game.  Hurricane Sandy was no different.  For those of us who are charged with overseeing and caring for water’s edge gardens; we were challenged.
Rebecca McMackin, Park Horticulturist for Brooklyn Bridge Park, took the initiative and organized a meeting for horticulturists and operational staff, who work in local waterfront  parks.  The objective was to  discuss the horticultural and operational Me and lawnmowerstrategies employed  for dealing with Sandy, as well as to collect data and put together a list of best practices for future storms.  Rebecca called  our group,  The Consortium of Coastal Parks.  This meeting of the minds was composed of principles from Battery Park City, Battery Park Conservancy, New York City Parks Department, Governors Island, Hudson River Park, Randall’s Island, and a few “call in” guests from the Rose Kennedy Greenway in MA, as well as a Professor of Geography, Dr. Rutherford Platt from the University of MA.,

All these parks have in common a water’s edge.  We exchanged and compared notes on approaches to remediation.  Who did what?  This ranged from flushing soil to humic acid to gypsum.  Of course, most importantly, soil testing.


I felt like the odd man out.  At Randall’s we took a different approach.  Our first priority was to clear pathways and gardens of fallen trees and branches.  Second was to clean the line of debris left by  water washing over the seawall three times.  With over 5 miles of coastline, we enlisted the help of hundreds of wonderful volunteers to aid IMG_2214us in the clean-up.  Last, but certainly not least, we had to make a decision about the gardens.  With no irrigation in any of the gardens, the idea of flushing out the soil was impossible.

What should we do?

To say we (Eunyoung and myself) did nothing is only part of the answer.  In consultation with Japanese experts, we decided to take a different approach.  We leaned into the world of  “permaculture” .  Our approach was and is  to observe the patterns of nature, and examine over  time how nature deals with salinity in soil.  Considering our resources, both financial and human, we made a determination to be watchful and sustainable.

We will keep you posted on how this decision plays out.

PINK PETALS for the Entire Family

In Learning Garden, New Ideas and Expansions, What's in Bloom on March 20, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Chanticleer photo

Phyllis Odessey
Director of Horticulture

Join Us for our first
community-wide FREE event:


April 20, 2013
10 am – noon
Walk across the 102 st.  bridge

rsvp or to ask any questions:


TREE to take home


to take home


Let our staff
draw a cheery
for you


Create a cheery blossom
tissue paper
to brighten your window sill


and more…

how to make





Eye of the Storm

In General Plants, New Ideas and Expansions on November 2, 2012 at 10:57 am

By Phyllis Odessey

We didn’t know what to expect.  How many trees would be lost?  Would the gardens survive?  Would saltwater destroy the plants?  What would be required for restoration?

We garden on an island and that has many advantages.  We can walk to the mainland of Manhattan; we have beautiful views of the New York skyline; from the island we can see the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan.

Most of the time, Randall’s Island seems like the most unique place to work:  in the middle of the city and simultaneously surrounded by nature.  BUT, a hurricane poses challenges to gardening on an island.

On Wednesday, we drove around and accessed the situation.  “It’s not that bad.”
The river washed over these plants; it’s hard to tell.  They have ‘bounced’ back…holding their shape and color.  The Water’s Edge Garden is one of the most beloved places on Randall’s Island.  It is the access pathway from the 104 st. bridge to Icahn Stadium and the many of the fields on the island.  It is the regular walking and biking path for many New Yorkers.  It has survived.

There are trees down, branches small and large in the garden and debris covering plants from water washing over the garden, but we are hard at work, making progress.  We hope to open the pathway to visitors on Monday.

As Majora Carter said “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”  I remembered these words as I walked around Randall’s Island after Hurricane Sandy.  My first thoughts:  what we can change, improve and how can we create more beauty.

“A Rich Spot of Earth”

In New Ideas and Expansions on October 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm

By Phyllis Odessey

You never know where inspiration will come from.  Last night, Eunyoung and Sebazco and I attended “A Rich Spot of Earth”, Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello given by Peter J. Hatch, the Retired Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello.

Hatch and Jefferson were both revolutionaries.  We know about President Thomas Jefferson, but how much do we know about the gardener, Thomas Jefferson.  After spending 35 years at Monticello, Peter Hatch knows a great deal and he shared it with us.

As we listened, Eunyoung whispered in my ear, “Let’s do a Thomas Jefferson Garden.”  OK.   Some of the vegetables we are looking to forward to planting:  West Indian Gherkins, Cow’s Horn Okra, Tennis Ball Lettuce, Red Calico Lima Beans, Blue Prussian Peas, Marrowfat Peas and China Rose Winter Radish.

Jefferson is famous for saying “the failure of one thing is repaired by the success of another.”  This quote is on a plaque in the White House Garden.  I think we will also add to Thomas Jefferson Garden on Randall’s Island.

If you know anyone or any organization or corporation, who would like to sponsor The Thomas Jefferson Garden on Randall’s Island, please contact me at: phyllis.odessey@parks.nyc.gov

Salves, balms, bath salts, oh my!

In Ask a Gardener, New Ideas and Expansions on October 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm

 By: Merryl Spence
(Photo; Merryl & The Tetons 2012)

Beginnings sometimes stem from unexpected places.  For Potlatch Remedy and I, the beginning was Rikers Island, fall of 2010.  Yes, that Rikers.  After a ten-year career in the entertainment industry I found myself seeking a new environment and a fresh start.  I took a position working with inmates in a horticultural therapy program.  The three-acre garden at Rikers is gated within Rosie’s, the women’s detention center. A stunning array of trees – maple, evergreen, tiger sumac, holly, and fig – live alongside an abundance of flowers, succulents, vegetables and fruit. There is a koi pond and a green house. Fifteen wild guinea fowl, feral cats, possum, mocking birds, seagulls, sparrow and monarchs also call this garden home. And for a few hours a day, three groups of inmates (two groups of men, one group of women) meet here to learn about botany, urban landscaping, urban farming and gardening. The program director often made salves and lotions with the inmates utilizing many herbs and native plants from the garden. I was moved by the relief so many people found in both this practice and this place. My imagination was fired, and I became fascinated with the basic healing properties of plants and natural elements.

My evenings at home in Brooklyn became filled with experiments involving me, my stove, and natural ingredients. I began combining, dissolving and solidifying these elements into what would ultimately become the product I am excited to share with you – Potlatch Remedy.

Potlatch Remedy is handmade salve produced in small batches using premium-sourced organic and natural products including: beeswax, calendula, witch hazel, organic olive oil, organic jojoba oil, shea butter, lanolin and vitamin e. All of these ingredients have traditionally been used for their medicinal healing properties.

The name Potlatch has a dual meaning for me. A potlatch is a gift-giving festival practiced by Native American communities of the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada and the United States. Potlatch means “to give away” or “a gift”. This is also the name of my grandfather’s Idaho cabin just west of the Tetons. Potlatch is the culmination of everything I aspire to make a part of my life – the healing properties of nature, community, and a whole lot of love.

Making salve is a passion for me. There is something deeply soothing and rewarding about making something from scratch that is used for healing purposes. Anyone can do this from home and with a small budget. It’s easy, super fun and makes for a unique gift any time of the year. As a gardener here on Randall’s Island I occasionally get the chance to work with Nick in The Learning Garden. There are a number of herbs and plants available that are key ingredients for homemade salves, lotions, balms, scrubs, bath salts etc. Here is a very easy recipe via Janice Cox (Janice Cox is the author of Natural Beauty at Home) utilizing lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘England’, the species we grow in The Learning Garden) from the Randall’s Island Learning Garden.

• 1 cup dried lavender flowers (any species you’d like)

• 2 cups whole oatmeal (to keep it natural/organic use a natural or organic brand)

• 1⁄2 cup baking soda

1. Place ingredients inside a food processor or blender. Grind until you have a smooth, fine powder. The powder should have the consistency of whole grain flour.

2. Pour into a dry, clean container. To use: Pour 1/2 cup into your bath as you fill the tub.

There are a number of resources available online and at local bookstores that will provide you with endless ideas and recipes. Here are a few of my favorites;

Stephanie Tourles book Organic Body Care Recipes is a great resource and provides an endless amount of easy to follow recipes for a variety of body care needs. Her book has become a staple in my library.


I’m also a BIG fan of Kendra and Scott’s blog http://asonomagarden.wordpress.com I could spend days on here relishing in their recipes and suggestions. Fantastic they are! Here’s an easy winter hand salve recipe; http://asonomagarden.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/how-to-make-an-easy-winter-hand-salve-aka-eczema-fighting-lotion/

Winter is coming. Get ready and create!

Coming Your Way in 2013

In New Ideas and Expansions on October 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm

By Phyllis Odessey

2012 has not come to a close, but in the gardening world the end of one year is really about the beginning of another one.

We’ve had two volunteer events in October that are all about 2013.

60 volunteers from Ernst and Young came to Randall’s Island on October 3rd to work on three different areas:  planting the wildflower meadow, adding grasses to the Saltwater Wetland and creating mulched quads at Central Fields.  In the case of the Horticulture Department, you will see the results of the last phase of Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow in the Spring of 2013.  Volunteers planted 12 varieties of native wildflowers, including asters, helenium, hibiscus and lobelia.  It’s our field of dreams.
2 days later, 100 volunteers from Baruch High School came to Randall’s.  Our kids went to the apple orchard, near Field 62 and planted daffodil plants under the apple trees.  The soil in this area is particularly rocky and not easy going.  Our high school volunteers persisted and planted 2,000 bulbs.
If you are part of a community group, organization or school that would like to participate in a volunteer project with the Horticulture Department, please contact: phyllis.odessey@parks.nyc.gov

We look forward to hosting you in 2013.