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City parks gardeners' work on display during Open

The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Unisphere in Queens.

The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Unisphere in Queens. Credit: NYC Parks and Recreation

Like artists, the gardeners at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park take great pride in seeing people enjoying their work. Just please, watch your step.

"We love when we see people stop to take pictures," Park Administrator Janice Melnick said. "We don't love when they walk into the flower bed."

Just as the U.S. Open marks the peak in the year of tennis' greatest players, so does it for New York City Parks Department gardeners, who toil for months in preparation for the 700,000 visitors from around the world who visit Flushing Meadows.

Gardeners work from the spring through the fall, planting more than 31,000 annual and perennial flowers, tropical plants, shrubs and trees throughout the 898-acre park -- the largest in Queens. And although city parks gardeners aren't responsible for any of the plantings inside the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, their work is still very much a part of the annual tennis tournament.

"We want people to have a positive experience. We want the park to look its best," Melnick said.

Most of Flushing Meadows' flowers are grown from seeds, plugs or liners at the Queens Greenhouse in Forest Park in Queens. Flushing Meadows also bolsters its collection of plantings each year courtesy of the USTA, which typically donates some tropical plants used in the tennis center to the park following the U.S. Open.

Flushing Meadows' one full-time gardener and several other city Parks Department gardeners work in teams of two or three on designing, planting and maintaining the park's various beds, decorated with begonias, lantanas, impatiens and other vibrant flowers. Some have colorful names, such as "Ham & Cheese," "Zig Zag'" and "The Canoes."

"We give them creative license and they come up with the designs," said Adriana Jacykewycz, NYC Parks' Queens director of horticulture. "They have different visions so we let them get creative."

A few particular gardens become focal points during the U.S. Open, including Olmsted Circle, just off the exit of the Grand Central Parkway, near the President's Gate of the tennis center; one along the walkway between the No. 7 train station and the center, which features plantings in the form of the letters FMCP; and the flower beds in front of the iconic Unisphere.

So popular is the steel globe among U.S. Open visitors that the gardeners this year left a clearing in the flower bed across the tennis center's South Plaza on which to stand and pose for pictures.

On Friday, Christine Melius of Pompano Beach, Fla., snapped away at the Unisphere and its surrounding gardens with her camera. Melius' pass to the tournament expired Thursday, but she returned to the park the next day anyway to take in part of the "breathtaking" botany.

"I said 'I'm just going to enjoy sitting in the park,' " said Melius, 66, still following the tennis action on a portable radio. "It's just pure beauty."

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