The Great Gardener of Theodore Roosevelt Park: Ada Ubinas

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.”

Planning for a new season 

When we interviewed Ubinas, she was in the midst of putting in her orders for the coming season. It is her responsibility to order the plants and trees and in many cases, she gets to decide what will go where. She has to stick to a budget and likes to deal with a nursery in Long Island because “they’re flexible and patient. I order the plants, the tools, all of it, right before planting season in April or May. ”

Explaining a vision

Ubinas has a very specific vision for what she wants her park to look like. She is most interested in “color, texture and form”. She wants it all to be “interesting in every season. Even in winter I want people to have something pleasing to look at.” She explains that that can be “stems, or the color of foliage on a bush. I want visitors to see nicely mulched edges, to know that  what they’re looking at is well taken care of.

“I want to create welcoming gardens, I want to draw you in.” After all, she said with a smile, “I don’t want them to go to Central Park! I like symmetry and try to keep visitor’s eyes focused on the plantings…I don’t like garden walls. I want clear sight lines, I want the lawns to be manicured and I like a balance of lawns and trees. Gardens should be for everyone.” 

Choosing Favorites

Her favorite public gardens? “Battery Park and the High Line. Piet Oudolf, the designer of High Line is a huge favorite of mine; another is the Brazilian Roberto Burle Marx. He’s an artist with plants. I love Fort Tryon Park, too. It’s a dream park. I like the way they hit the four seasons there…. What I would love to see here in the park would be a native plant garden. I’d plant butterfly weed, osage, witch hazel, blue stripe, asters.”

Meeting Challenges

One of her greatest joys is bringing ailing plants and trees back to life. “If a plant or tree isn’t doing well, I like to figure out what the problem is and come up with a solution. When I got here I had to deal with a major water problem down by the dog run and I worked it out. I like the challenge.”

Ubinas works in the park every day for nine months of the year–in the winter she joins some of her fellow gardeners to do street tree pruning all over the city. That’s when she gets to see her friends and although she enjoys that part of her job, she’s glad to be back in the park now, tending to her trees, plants and grass and planning for what the spring and summer will bring. 

Here’s what Peter Wright, Co-President of  Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Park, says about Ubinas and the work she does: “When our partners in the Parks Department assigned Ada Ubinas as the Roosevelt Park gardener, they gave us three gifts-in-one! Ada has deep horticultural knowledge; she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, digging, planting, pruning and weeding. And, thirdly, she’s a superb teacher and mentor to the 10 paid high school interns in our GreenLife job-readiness program, who contributed 4000 hours of Park maintenance labor last year.”

Ada’s tips for exploring the park this spring

With spring having just arrived, we asked Ubinas what signs of the new season visitors should be looking for right now in the Park. Her answer is a list of five of her springtime “greatest hits”: the blooming of the magnolia trees at 81st Street and Columbus Avenue; the “pinkefying” of  the crepe myrtles down by the dog run; the appearance of the blue, white and pink hydrangeas all around the park at the end of April; the start of azalea season; and the return of the subtly colored hellebores, one of the surest signs that spring has finally arrived on the Upper West Side. And while you’re at the park, check on the progress of the three prunus sargentii trees more commonly known as sargent cherry trees– that Ubinas planted two weeks ago on West 77th Street.

Alert: Hazardous Tree Removal

After an inspection of the trees in Roosevelt Park last week by Emerald Tree Care, it was determined that several trees must be removed immediately for safety reasons, most particularly, the large elm just inside the fence at 80th Street and Columbus Avenue. The tree was found to have numerous widening cracks, dry rot, and hollows throughout the crown that make this tree structurally unsound. It already has a significant eastward lean towards the pathways and seating areas.

Due to these hazardous conditions, the tree must be removed as soon as possible. The area is currently cordoned off to prevent accidents, and the work will be performed on Wednesday, April 10th. Please note that this work will be paid for by the Parks Department, and is not connected in any way to the upcoming Museum work.

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What is happening to our park?

A museum neighbor has her questions answered

Editor’s Note: On my way to a meeting with the Board of Friends of Roosevelt Park, I noticed a woman looking at a flyer about the museum’s expansion that had been posted in a storefront window on Columbus Avenue. As we talked, she told me that she lived across from the museum and that she had a lot of questions about how the expansion was going to impact the park. I told her where I was heading and promised to get the answers to her questions for her and email them on to her. Which I did. Realizing that her questions are ones that other neighborhood residents may also have, we’ve decided to include them in this newsletter. -Marjorie Cohen

Lori Famighetti, a restaurant publicist, has lived on West 79th Street–“about 1000 feet from the museum”–since 1983. Before current construction began on the AMNH site, Lori and her 10 year old son Julian walked through Theodore Roosevelt Park every day. The park is where her son learned to ride a bike and to roller skate; it’s where he plays in the snow and runs around with his friends. For him “it’s been a familiar, cozy place to play, better than Riverside Park”. When construction on the site began, Lori had several questions about what to expect and how her son’s “familiar, cozy place” might be affected. For answers, we spoke to the staff of the museum and here’s what they had to say:

Where will the addition be? What’s the footprint? 

The new Gilder Center will be set into the Columbus Avenue side of the Museum complex at 79th Street, with approximately 80 percent of the proposed 230,000-gross-square-foot project located within the area now occupied by the Museum building.

How much land will the Gilder Center addition take from the park?

The new building will extend 11,600 feet or about 1/4 acre beyond the museum’s existing footprint into the park.

And according to calculations done by Friends: Museum construction, actual and added since 1998, has actually added 3/4 of an acre of Park, plus 1 acre for the Arthur Ross Roof Terrace over the new garage, which the Museum funds, and minus 1/4 of an acre for the proposed addition, leaving a net gain of 3/4 of an acre.

This is my son’s question: Where is the time capsule now? Will it be back?

The New York Times Capsule is in temporary storage and will be reinstalled at its new location in front of the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

What about the Nobel Monument?

The Nobel Monument will stay where it is. In consultation with a community Park Working Group, plans for park improvements were developed to redesign the paths around the monument to improve circulation, provide more seating, and create a gathering space off of the path network. While those improvements are being made, the area around the monument will be closed. This work won’t begin until later in the construction period.

How many trees are going and how many will replace them?

Seven trees will be removed and 22 new trees (including six canopy trees) will be planted once construction is completed.

How about the benches?

Fifteen new benches will be added as part of the Gilder Center project, bringing the total to 38 within the construction project area in the park.

Will the entrance near where the time capsule used to be remain open?

The Museum’s Columbus Avenue entrance (at 79th Street) has been closed since August for interior demolition. There will be a new public entrance to the Gilder Center in that location.

What arrangements are being made for increased traffic and tourists?

The project’s landscaping modifications and improvements in Theodore Roosevelt Park are intended to address the increased number of Museum visitors and to ensure Park visitors will continue to have access to areas for gathering, play, and relaxation, as well as pathways for Museum entry and walking through the Park.

How long will the project take? What are the various stages and how long is each expected to take?

Construction is expected to take approximately three years, beginning with the demolition of existing structures. Subsequent stages of construction include excavation and installation of foundations, construction of the building structure and exteriors, interior work and installation of finishes, exhibits and scientific collections. Restoration of the Park will include the park improvements developed in consultation with the Park Working Group.

How will parking be affected (I have a car)?

During construction approximately five to six street parking spaces will be inaccessible. This is to allow for construction vehicles to enter without having to queue on Columbus Avenue, allowing the existing lanes of traffic on Columbus Avenue to remain open.

What will life be like during construction for people like us who live right by the museum?

Similar to most large construction projects, construction of the Gilder Center will result in temporary disruptions in the surrounding area. However, the Museum has committed to implementing a variety of measures (e.g., noise and dust control measures, community safety measures, and outreach and communication with the community) during construction to minimize impacts to the nearby community.

A multi-step investigation of site conditions found there is nothing out of the ordinary about the environmental conditions of the Gilder Center site or the surrounding areas of Theodore Roosevelt Park. These areas are typical of other construction sites in New York City, and the City’s expert agencies concluded that there are “no known risks with respect to hazardous materials that cannot be controlled through the use of the measures commonly used at construction sites throughout New York City.” This matches prior experience in the Park, including when the Weston Pavilion and Rose Center for Earth and Space were built and the western portion of the Park renovated.

What is going to be in the new building? Will it be all research or will it have public space?

The Gilder Center will serve both elements of the Museum’s mission–scientific research and education–by providing:

  • Exhibition halls for visitors and school groups including a new state-of-the-art theater and galleries that highlight vital scientific topics

  • A view into the scientific collections for the public via The Collections Core, which will hold millions of specimens that are part of an irreplaceable record of life on Earth, offering a close look at the essential factual evidence that underpins scientific research by scholars at the Museum and from around the world.

  • Modern educational facilities for hundreds of thousands of students: The Gilder Center will have 13 new or renovated classrooms

  • Programming for thousands of New York State teachers, supporting the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, which educates one-third of all newly-certified New York State teachers in Earth science.

Will we be able to sit on the lawn on the west end of the park facing Columbus Avenue the way we did last summer?

The NYC Parks Department opened two lawns in the Park last summer as part of a pilot program. Recently it was announced that the program will be continued into next summer.

How can I stay up-to-date on construction activities?

Join the email list at www.amnh.org/gildercenter. For questions, you can call 212-769-5246 or email gildercenter@amnh.org. Or, if you prefer, contact Friends at contact@friendsofrooseveltpark.org and we will help you get answers to your questions.

Introducing the Friends of Roosevelt Park Newsletter

Welcome from Friends of Roosevelt Park

Welcome to the first in a new series of e-newsletters put together by Friends of Roosevelt Park. Our goal is simple: to keep you informed about what is happening in the Park, to give you a look back at some of its fascinating history and to introduce you to some of the many people who work to make our Park such an outstanding oasis of green in the heart of the Upper West Side.

Founded in 1988 by a group of neighbors determined to reverse the deteriorating condition of the park, our group continues to preserve and enhance this beautiful Park. Management of the Park is shared by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and the American Museum of Natural History.

Friends is proud of its role in providing the financial support to hire a full time Horticultural Director after the 1998-99 renovation of the northern portion of the Park. Since the group’s founding, it has invested over two million dollars in the Park, currently about 1/2 of the Park’s total operating budget. Friends is particularly proud of their initiation of the GreenLife program, a job-training partnership with the Urban Assembly for Green Careers, a high school located nearby. (More about GreenLife in the next newsletter).

The Park has been consistently recognized as one of the top five small parks in NYC. We are hoping that through this online newsletter, more and more people will visit our park and find out why it deserves that honor.

-The Board of Directors, Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Park 

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Margaret Mead Green

Roosevelt Park’s Margaret Mead Green was named for anthropologist Margaret Mead, who was born on December 16, 1901. The Margaret Mead Green is located next to Columbus Avenue, near 81st Street.

Margaret Mead’s Time in New York City

Margaret Mead graduated from New York’s Barnard College in 1923, where she earned a BA in psychology. She continued her studies in New York at Columbia University, where she received a PhD in anthropology. She later lived and worked on NYC’s Upper West Side.

Margaret Mead’s Importance to the American Museum of Natural History

Mead studied and wrote about adolescent girls in Coming of Age in Samoa, and younger children in Growing Up in New Guinea. The American Museum of Natural History has many exhibits based on Mead’s work. She later worked at the museum as a research fellow and curator of ethnology. The museum holds the Margaret Mead Film Festival annually.

Veteran’s Day

The Veteran Honored by Roosevelt Park, NYC

Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders

Theodore Roosevelt, the namesake of Roosevelt Park, was a veteran of the Spanish-American war. In 1898, he formed The Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry group, and led them to victories at Kettle Hill and San Juan heights in Cuba. In 2001, Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the war.

On July 4, 1903, President Roosevelt gave a speech to veterans in Springfield, IL. He told them, A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that no man is entitled, and less than that no man shall have.”

 

Top 5 Things to See in Roosevelt Park

#5: Bull Moose Dog Run

Why is this dog run named Bull Moose? Bull Moose was another name for the Progressive Party, the political party of President Theodore Roosevelt, the namesake of Roosevelt Park. The Bull Moose party advocated the direct election of U.S. senators, women’s suffrage, tariff reductions, and many social reforms.

There is also a series of books by J.F. Englert called, “The Bull Moose Dog Run Mysteries.” The detective in these stories is a black lab named Randolph.

Regardless of where the name comes from, the Bull Moose Dog Run in Roosevelt Park is the best dog run west of Central Park! Dogs of the Upper West Side gather here year round. Bring your dog to make some new friends.

#4: Knock Out® Roses

Located in the southwest corner of the park, these cold-resistant roses bloom until the first frost. Stop by in the next month to see them!

Nobel Monument

#3:Nobel Monument

The Nobel monument stands near the western entrance of the American Museum of Natural History, near Columbus Avenue. The monument displays the names of all the American winners of the Nobel Prize. These include William Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Carl D. Anderson, who won for his work in physics, Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Roald Hoffman, Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr., and Theodore Roosevelt, who won the Peace Prize in 1906.

 

American Museum of Natural History#2: The American Museum of Natural History

AMNH is one of the most popular museums in New York City, and it stands at the center of Theodore Roosevelt Park. Many people mistakenly think the park is part of the museum, but it is separate. It is a New York City park, managed by Friends of Roosevelt Park together with The Museum and New York City’s Department of Parks.

#1: Seasons Up Close

Do you like fall foliage? Starting in October, watch the colors change on Roosevelt Park’s oak leaf hydrangea and ginko biloba.

Not only is the park beautiful when covered with snow, but it’s a great place to see plants that thrive in winter. These include Nandina Domestica and Sedum.

After a long, cold winter, many plants begin to bloom in the spring. As you stroll through the park, look for hosta, tulips and daffodils.

Are you looking for a place to cool off in the summer? Theodore Roosevelt Park is the place to be, with shaded benches, water fountains, and lawns that you can walk on.

Columbus Avenue Festival

Columbus Avenue Festival

On Sunday, September 16th, vendors and shoppers filled Columbus Avenue from 68th to 86th Streets for the Columbus Avenue Festival. This street fair raises money for grants awarded by the West Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

Columbus Avenue Festival outside Roosevelt Park

Columbus Avenue Festival outside Roosevelt ParkGoodies in the garden

It wouldn’t be a street fair without street food, and many visitors took advantage of the beautiful day to enjoy scrumptious festival food.  Roosevelt Park’s shady trees and benches provided perfect spots to relax with an end-of-summer brunch!

Labor Day

Theodore Roosevelt by John Singer Sargent, 1903Labor Day

Labor Day started in the 1880’s, when individual states began passing legislation to create a holiday to honor workers. In 1894, Congress made the first Monday in September a legal holiday, Labor Day.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Labor Day speech

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, Roosevelt Park’s namesake, gave a speech that linked the prosperity of laborers to the prosperity of the entire country. He said, “If circumstances are such that thrift, energy, industry, and forethought enable the farmer, the tiller of the soil, on the one hand, and the wage-worker on the other, to keep themselves, their wives, and their children in reasonable comfort, then the State is well off, and we can be assured that the other classes in the community will likewise prosper. On the other hand, if there is in the long run a lack of prosperity among the two classes named, then all other prosperity is sure to be more seeming than real.”

 

2018 GreenLife Interns in Roosevelt Park

GreenLife Interns in Roosevelt Park
Top, l to r: Keith, Christian, Christopher, Bry, Luis, Ada (Parks Supervisor), Kareem. Bottom, l to r: Eloy, Adrian, Gurdy, Gabriel.

GreenLife Job Readiness Program

GreenLife was created 15 years ago by Friends of Roosevelt Park in conjunction with the Rudin Foundation and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who was our City Council member at that time. These paid interns are students at the nearby Urban Assembly for Green Careers high school, and they work in Roosevelt Park for nine months a year under close supervision.

How do interns benefit from the GreenLife program?

The internship teaches students three job disciplines:

  • Show up on time
  • Be a team player
  • Take instruction

The 2018 Urban Assembly graduation included four GreenLife alumni, all of whom are going on to four-year colleges!