Friday, July 22, 2022

Roosevelt Island Community Gardeners Collaborate Bringing Native Plantings To Local Urban Ecosystem At Cherry Grove Bed On Waterfront Promenade Across From Riverwalk Commons - Any Ideas For Next Gardening Project?

Roosevelt Island Garden Club (RIGC) member Julia Ferguson reports on a new community planting project taking place at the Cherry Tree Grove on the East River waterfront promenade across from the Rivewalk Commons. 

According to Ms Ferguson: 

RIGC has been working on a collaborative community outreach program. The focus of the outreach series is Roosevelt Island as an Ecosystem in which soil, climate, water, and plants, trees and landscape interact with humans, animals, insects, birds to sustain life on our little urban island. 

RIGC has collaborated with Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC), Cornell Tech, iDig2Learn, and NYC Compost hosted by BigReuse for this project. The project has two parts: 

  • Learning about how ecosystems work with specific examples, and planting native plants to provide habitats for beneficial insects and
  • Bring beauty to the island, and increase biodiversity.

Roosevelt Island resident and RIGC member Jack Burkhalter, an urban naturalist, worked closely with RIOC's Matt Kibby’s oversight to design and plan out the details of the planting. 

RIOC provided over 1000 native habitat bare roots and plant plugs for ground cover plants. Cornell Tech Students and RIOC staff prepped the site. And on April 30, 2022 for #EarthLove Day, over 60 people, including lots of children, visited the educational table in the park west of Meditation Steps and learned about how violets, milkweed, and sumac trees nurture pollinators and ants, and how these insects benefit these plants. An equal number of Roosevelt Islanders of all ages and abilities joined to help plant over half of the planting area under the four old Yoshino Cherry trees. On that day, a white throated sparrow was singing his joy, and we may have heard the cherry trees thank us as we brought them new companion plants and tickled/aerated their roots.

Lady Ferns, Foam Flowers, Violets, Wild Geraniums, Penstemon, and Pennsylvania Sedges: all of these ground covers will be pleasing to see and they will also welcome butterfly larvae, native pollinators, and help support bird life especially in the spring. Phase 2 plans are for Wild Ginger, more Penstemon, White Wood Asters, and a low growing soft Goldenrod to provide fall nectar for pollinators and continued colors in autumn. 

I spoke with Ms Ferguson and Mr Burkhalter earlier this month as they were working on the Cherry Tree Grove planting to learn more about the project and their future Roosevelt Island Ecosystem collaborative plans.

Ms Ferguson adds:

On April 7, 2022, Rebecca McMackin, Director of Horticulture at Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP) spoke with Roosevelt Islanders in a free virtual talk. Ms. McMackin knows about the challenges and rewards of turning an urban landscape (Brooklyn piers and industrial area) into a thriving, stunningly beautiful and healthy ecosystem. We appreciated Rebecca’s inspiration and willingness to share her learning: the principles, and the practices of her entire BBP Horticulture Staff where the “dynamic relationships” of both people and ecosystems are honored and where the lives of plants, caterpillars, butterflies, birds, and people fit together “seamlessly” in an urban setting.

Over 80 people from all five boroughs of NYC, from places across the U.S., and from Nova Scotia to New Zealand were able to join us for Rebecca McMackin's talk. Click here to read through some of the key takeaways and watch the April 7, 2022 recording of Rebecca McMackin from Brooklyn Bridge Park: A case study for seeing Roosevelt Island as an ecosystem.

These days, more people are looking closely at building and grounds sustainability as well as landscape ecology practices when they make decisions on where to live and work. Together as an Island community, we can continue to create a model for ecological health and beauty through collaborative projects. With Roosevelt Islanders help we have completely planted Phase One for this little habitat site. It takes a village and we are especially lucky in that regard. Gratitude for another RI habitat planting providing health and beauty after EarthLove Day 2022! 

Stay tuned for other opportunities to learn and engage with this idea and more from “Roosevelt Island is an urban ecosystem.” Write to if you are interested in possibly volunteering for the fall planting at this site.

Thank you so much to RIOC, the RI community, and RIGC members for all the help.  With Roosevelt Islanders’ help we have now planted another lovely little habitat site. This established landscape bed will glow in a year or two as the plants fill in. 

Any ideas for the next collaborative Roosevelt Island urban ecosystem gardening project?