Clark Botanic Garden restoration under way

Ryan Torres, director of Clark Botanic Garden and Ryan Torres, director of Clark Botanic Garden and a horticulturist with the Town of North Hempstead, stacks logs that come from some of the many trees that were lost to Superstorm Sandy. The Albertson garden sustained devastating damage and is temporarily closed. (Jan. 29, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

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Along the trails that wind through Clark Botanic Garden, the bordering Albertson homes have never been more visible.

Many of the gargantuan trees that once provided shade -- and a buffer from the garden's suburban neighbors -- are gone, destroyed by superstorm Sandy and a subsequent nor'easter.

Wood chips and sawdust now line the pathways, alongside carved-up tree stumps.

Work has begun to restore the 12-acre garden, which is owned by the Town of North Hempstead. Although the town said the garden is eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements, the garden's volunteer board, The Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden Inc., is appealing to its members for donations to defray the town's expenses. It has started "Project 40" -- denoting the number of trees the garden lost -- and set a fundraising goal of $15,000, chairwoman Jerilyn Dreitlein said.

"The garden has never been so devastated," she said.

Besides the trees, benches, walkways and railings were badly damaged, too. More substantial, perhaps, an apiary that often produced fresh honey and was a focal point of school field trips, and a revered Franklinia tree were damaged as well.

Ryan Torres, horticulturist for the garden, said she will not know how fruitful the restoration efforts are until spring, when she can determine which plants grew back. "It's going to be assess, plan, assess," she said. "When it comes to gardening, it's a weird art."

In 1966, Grenville Clark, a Wall Street attorney and author of "World Peace Through World Law," donated the land that would become the garden as a tribute to his late wife, Fanny. It opened in 1969, two years after Grenville Clark's death. In 1989, North Hempstead acquired Clark from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was experiencing financial troubles.

John Darcy, a former director of the garden who works for the town and lives on the property, recalled the history of Clark Garden, formed at a time when many worried about the overdevelopment of land.

"You get to step out of the insanity of suburbia," he said. "And once you're in there, time stops. It's something else."

Torres, for one, expressed anxiety about the task before her. "People would walk in and be surprised, shocked they were in Albertson," she said. "I'm nervous about what some of the patrons will say in the spring."

Despite the challenges facing Clark, there is evidence of a comeback. The town last week approved adding two greenhouses to the gardens, from grant money. Dreitlein said the nonprofit has met about half of its fundraising goal. The garden has been closed since Sandy, and officials plan on an April reopening.

"If the garden could speak for itself, it would most likely see this as an opportunity for it to rebuild and grow, and it will," Darcy said.

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