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Finances force Botanical Garden to close for 2 weeks

The Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing has made it halfway through a short winter hibernation instituted for the first time in 2009 aimed at cutting costs in the face of declining funding.

The renowned cultural institution has suffered since the economic downturn from decreased government support, halved corporate donations and decreased foundation and public contributions, Executive Director Susan Lacerte said.

As such, the garden has closed for two weeks ending Jan. 5. The winter months bring the fewest people to the gardens and school isnot in session during the two-week period, so class visits do not have to be canceled.

“During these last two weeks is when we usually have the least visitation anyway, and it’s also the holidays, so it just made sense to say, ‘OK, let’s close. We can save some money, then we can be ready during the warmer weather,’” she said. “Financial reality, that’s what decided this.”

While garden staff must all take 10-day furloughs this fiscal year, a woman retired early in order to save a job and another job will probably need to be cut soon, Lacerte said. The part-time and teenage staff force was cut from nearly 20 members to only two.

But spring is on the distant horizon, both literally for trees and plants and figuratively for the institution’s finances, and signs of hope are beginning to shine through.

“Things are starting to come back up, but it’s slow,” Lacerte said. “It’s affecting all of us.”

One approaching event that has brought some vigor back to the frostbitten gardens is the opening of a new “green” parking facility.

The facility, which has been dubbed a “parking garden” by Queens Botanical Gardens staff, lives up to its moniker since it prevents water runoff and actually includes plants in its design.

“The reason we’re calling it a parking garden is because it’s got a lot of plants in it,” Lacerte said. “It’s kind of like the fingers on a hand: The in-between part is where you park and the fingers are where the gardens will be.”

The parking surface, which will be permeable — meaning it will allow water to run into soil instead of running off and causing erosion and other environmental woes associated with asphalt lots — will be made from interlocking bricks laid in gravel. The design will be environmentally friendly while allowing people’s feet to stay dry when it rains.

The facility is slated to open in March.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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