Ada Ubinas, the gardener at Theodore Roosevelt Park, smiles her broad smile when she tells a visitor that she’s “a people person”. Anyone who has spent time in the park knows that she is, most definitely, “a plant person” as well.
Ubinas, an employee of the New York City Department of Parks, holds the civil service rank of G-2 Gardener, a barebones title that doesn’t reflect her absolute and complete passion for horticulture and the park that she cares for. For the past two years, Ubinas has been looking after the grounds and gardens that surround the American Museum of Natural History, an open space that, according to the Parks Department, gets hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. In a recent 90 minute conversation, it was obvious just how much she loves both her work and her workplace. Her previous garden gigs, before Theodore Roosevelt, were at City Hall, Gracie Mansion and Fort Tryon Park.
Starting the day
Ubinas is up at 4:30 every morning, goes to the gym and then heads to Randall’s Island to pick up her truck at 6:00 for the drive to the Upper West Side. She’s usually outside working, but sometimes she needs to be inside, doing the required paperwork. Her mini-office is located in the back of the parking garage and is decorated with lots and lots of photos of her gardens in full summer bloom and group pictures of the kids she works with who are part of GreenLife sponsored by the Rudin Foundation, a job-training partnership between the Park and a nearby high school, Urban Assembly for Green Careers.
Born in the Bronx, Ubinas moved to East 28th Street and came uptown to go to Brandeis High School. It is a happy coincidence that the kids she works with in the GreenLife program go to a school housed in the Brandeis building. “Isn’t it funny how I came back?” (GreenLife and the kids who are in it deserve their own post, so that will come in the next issue of the newsletter.)
Winning an award
When Ubinas first decided that she’d like to work for the Parks Department, she signed up for as many “hort” classes as she could. She researched and she studied and when a civil service job as gardener opened up, she took the exam which she described as “very difficult, very comprehensive.” Just a few months ago, she received the Department’s Garden of the Month citation at a ceremony in the Arsenal, the NYC Park’s headquarters.
When asked to comment on the reason that Ubinas was chosen for the award, Liam Kavanagh, First Deputy Commissioner of NYC Parks said, “Gardens serve New Yorkers of all backgrounds – they educate, soothe, inspire and re-energize us. And they wouldn’t exist without the passion and dedication of gardeners like Ada Ubinas. We were pleased to honor Ada’s work in Theodore Roosevelt Park as one of our Gardens of the Month for 2018. The work she does to beautify and better the park and its gardens keeps our environment healthy and brings people together.”