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New look for gardens at ‘the point’

April 12, 2012

by Siobhan Gervasio

The flower beds at the Point in Pine Hills are getting a makeover and Albany city gardener, Jessica Morgan, couldn’t be happier about it. This year, the gardens at the intersection of Madison and Western avenues will provide Morgan with an opportunity to showcase her vision for the Pine Hills while creating future savings for city taxpayers.

“I’ve wanted to do this since last year,” said Morgan, an almost nine-year veteran of the Department of General Services. She was appointed to her position in October 2011, replacing the retired Judy Stacey. Morgan is a natural fit for the job since she spent the majority of her tenure as Stacey’s apprentice.

Flowers already blooming at the intersection of Madison and Western avenues / Siobhan Gervasio

The general services gardening crew plants annually more than 200,000 summer and fall flowers among 483 flower beds in the city, including in the Pine Hills.

This year, the crew has been busy planting perennials at the popular intersection at Allen Street, including foxgloves, yuccas and pampas grasses as well as thistle and allium – two plants that aren’t often part of a municipal garden, Morgan said. “I wanted to add more of a personal touch.”

Using perennials is a departure from past practices when annuals were more prevalent. This change is part of an overall strategy to find creative ways to keep the space interesting while managing within the confines of the city’s budget. The general services budget does not show cuts for its 2012 park maintenance services, remaining relatively unchanged at approximately $3 million. This, however, doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room to contend with the rising costs of flowers and supplies, making it necessary to do more with less.

Pine Hills residents might notice the difference in the flowers that they won’t see this year, most notably, tulips – a staple of most Albany city gardens. Although Morgan said:  “we’ll still have tulips,” there will be 30% fewer of them, thanks, in part, to the expensive price tag.

“Tulips have gone up almost nine cents a bulb this year,” said Morgan, who attributes the price hike to shipping costs – the bulbs come directly from Holland.

Customers are choosing other flowering plants because of the price, said Rich Miller, manager, of Troy’s Landscaping Supply. “It has definitely reduced the usage of tulips,” said Miller, who often steers his customers toward perennials like grasses and daylilies which are known as a more rugged flower.

Miller considers daylilies as the biggest substitute for tulips. “They are similar but cheaper and will flower in late August through October or November.” This is an important distinction from tulips which only bloom in spring.

“Perennials are great to plant because you only have to plant them once,” said Denise Rich, manager of the Clifton Park location of Hewitt’s Garden Centers, Inc., a Capital Region company that sells garden-related products and services. Rich, who has been at the store for over 30 years, said that the one-off nature of planting perennials can benefit customers who are looking to trim costs since they won’t have to plant the same flowers each year.

This year’s landscaping includes the use of recycled stone – a change for the Pine Hills’ flowerbeds / Siobhan Gervasio

Morgan is hoping that this will benefit city taxpayers, too. “Ultimately it will be a huge savings compared to past years,” said Morgan who in addition to using perennials, will also be re-using resources from other sites in the city, like the large stones now featured in the Pine Hills flower beds. the stones – originally part of a  discarded city street barrier – will add texture, Morgan said. Instead of letting the city dispose of the large structure, Morgan decided to use it for landscaping purposes. “It’s really nice and I thought it would create a great visual affect – something else for the eye to see.”

For Morgan, finding new ways to keep Albany’s city gardens beautiful is a dream come true. “I absolutely love my job,” said Morgan. A native of Connecticut, Morgan always wanted to live in the Capital Region. “I remember when I was 12, driving over the bridge with my grandparents and looking at the Capitol building in the background and thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to live there someday.’”

She’s now a resident of the Pine Hills – something that undoubtedly gives her extra incentive to make sure that the flowers beds are well-represented. “It’s in my neighborhood so it’s my baby. I want to make sure it looks great.” -30-


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