Gardeners: We’re under siege

Gardeners: We’re under siege
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Vandals have attacked a group of flowering trees at the Narrows Botanic Gardens — the second wave of destruction in the last two weeks to hit the southern tip of a green oasis directly across the street from residents who have clashed with the garden’s leadership.

Narrows Board of Trustees President Richard Haugland said one of its $200 magnolia trees near the entrance to the garden at 72nd Street and Shore Road had most of its branches broken off overnight. A few days later, Haugland found that another of the flowering saplings had been girdled — a technique of killing a tree by shearing away a ring of bark around its trunk.

He said the attacks mirrored an incident nearly a year ago when several magnolias were ripped up out of the ground in the exact same section of the park.

“It all seems to be to concentrated in this area, which is kind of suspicious,” Haugland said, adding that the destruction was particularly hurtful because the shrubs were planted in remembrance of people who have died.

Haugland said that the Garden board has a history of tension with residents of the building on the opposite corner of Shore Road and 72nd Street, who initially helped fund Narrows when it started out in the northern corner of Shore Road Park in 1995. But as the vegetation in the garden grew, Haugland said he started hearing complaints that it interfered with first floor residents’ view of the harbor, although Haugland claims most of the obstruction comes from pre-existing trees planted by the Parks Department.

“I’ve even had some of them come up to me and say they wish the whole place would just be clear-cut,” Haugland said.

Narrows trustee and Community Board 10 member Greg Ahl said he has met with the building’s tenants to try to come to an agreement, and had received threats from one particular resident — fellow CB10 member Allen Bortnick — that he would personally destroy the bamboo the Narrows staff planted on the waterside edge of the garden.

“I couldn’t believe it!” Ahl said.

Bortnick confirmed Ahl’s story, saying his threat stands, but denied that he or anyone else in his building damaged the magnolias.

“Our only problem is with the bamboo,” said Bortnick, claiming that the tall, stalky plant blocks out the seascape worse than the trees or shrubs, even though Bortnick himself lives on the opposite side of the building from the garden, and would have no view of the water either way.

Bortnick argued that the magnolias were most likely targeted because they happen to sit near the entrance of the garden, and that the vandals who stripped the branches off the one tree were probably just taking cuttings for their own gardens.

“They were just marauders who saw what they wanted and took it,” Bortnick said, adding that he frequently sees people entering the garden late at night to walk their dogs.

Bortnick also claimed that complaints weren’t just limited to him or his building, and that he once collected signatures for a petition from people living along the garden’s entire length, from his corner up to 69th Street.

“They just want to make this personal so they can get away with blocking the view,” Bortnick said.