Mapmaker Profile: Nuala O’Doherty

Mapmaker Profile - Nuala O'Doherty

I moved to Jackson Heights 11 years ago with my first child and then had 2 more. While Jackson Heights is known as a Garden Community, there is actually very little public green space. Travers Park was too small and people wanted to expand it, but at a great expense. I started noticing public spaces that were not being utilized and were just left to collect trash.

The first spot I noticed was the strip along the east side of the BQE from 37th Avenue to Northern Blvd. It was a small space, but their was dirt. I envisioned a lush green entrance to Jackson Heights and I though a quick call to the Parks Department and they would take it over. I was naïve. Once I learned that the Parks Department did not want space with out funding, I went about cleaning it up with the Jackson Heights Beautification Group. At first we just went out and picked up the trash and cut the weeds. Soon the trash and weeds came back and it felt like a never ending battle. Next I tried taking a small spot and build a garden. It was amazing. No one dumped trash on the garden. I could not believe the difference the garden made to the area. Still gardens need water and wind blows in trash, but over the last few years we have learned about hardy plants and recruited volunteers to pick up trash.

The next year, we expanded my small garden. Soon we were joined by a composting center. While we are not finished with 69th Street, I have to admit that I live on the other side of Jackson Heights, and my husband would say what are you doing near us. So as I walked my kids to school I would past a piece of dirt next to the Food Bazaar Parking Lot. I started by hanging a potted plant to the fence and no one touched it as the flowers grew. With that I knew it would work. I then contacted Food Bazaar and with the offer of water from the neighboring building our second garden was started.  The garden on 34th Avenue and Junction Blvd. is very different than 69th Street. There are always people walking by asking questions.  We met new friends from the hot dog vendor who keeps an eye on the garden to the Food Bazaar workers who pick up the trash every morning. The area has blossomed into a small piece of heaven on a busy street corner. Next in an effort to work with the schools, we started working with a class of 2nd graders who cleaned out an area we now call the tulip garden on the corner of 69th Street and 37th Avenue.

This has become the home to Jackson Heights own bee hive. It is our most formal garden and still a work in progress, but this May the hill of tulips was fantastic. The kids really loved the gardening, so we also started working with the children at PS 149 making the school garden something to be proud of. With the help of a teacher, Dr. Lopez, and the custodians, PS 149 now has a beautiful front garden and improving side gardens. Not to be left out PS 280, which is a block away soon asked for help. This spring we installed 5 raised beds which are full of vegetable and herb plants.  A tree  was planted and a flower garden in the front.

As with all gardens in their infancy, it doesn’t look like much yet, but just wait and see what will happen.  But gardening, just leads to more gardening. We have a few big plans ahead. We are hoping to work with IS 145 on their garden, we helped clean out Leverich Cemetery and hope to work on a future plan for the space. There is still a lot of work to be done on 69th Street and with the new tree guards around trees on 37th Avenue we have lots of mini gardens to plant. With lots of work and lots of rain we will make Jackson Heights the garden city it was always planned to be.

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