The landscaped enclave, which was founded in 1992 after being acquired by the Parks Department, is the result of a partnership of local volunteers who set an example for their community and the planet.
What was once a trash-infested lot filled with tar deposits and boulders alongside the old LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch Line, is now home to diverse plants, vegetables and herbs.
It is an attraction for wildlife, community events, and a place to sit and unwind. It has indeed become Forest Hills’ own “Garden of Eden.”
For the third year running, gardeners celebrated Bastille Day on July 14.
“We prepare an all-French menu, accompanied by French music, beginning with the French National Anthem,” said Gloria Imperante, a Project Eden coordinator who has called Forest Hills home since 1977.
“Gardeners came together to celebrate French culture by cooking something outside their comfort zone,” added Rubi Gaddi Macaulay, who cooked Cassoulet
Rob Russo prepared ratatouille, while Imperante cooked coq au vin. Other gardeners baked classic French desserts, including fruit tart and mousse.
The gardeners also recently celebrated Project Eden’s 25th anniversary.
“An unsightly dumping ground is now a garden that is a testament to what can be accomplished when people come together for the common good, with a purpose to preserve and enhance the greening of our planet,” said Imperante.
Over the years, steps leading to the abandoned railway have been turned into a hosta garden, while bursts of color are provided by hydrangeas, jasmine, azaleas, and rhododendrons that form a picturesque backdrop. A wood-chipped pathway leads to benches under a wisteria arbor.
A wide range of produce includes broccoli, summer squash, sweet peppers, cucumbers, onions, basil, oregano, mint, lemongrass, arugula, and mesclun.
“We have a work table which is our plant nursery,” Imperante explained. “In the center of the garden are 15 raised beds shared by 28 gardeners. Each gardener pays a small fee for the season and receives a parcel of land, two feet by five feet, for planting vegetables.”
Project Eden receives financial support from neighborhood businesses.
“Wood rots, equipment breaks, and mulch and soil must be purchased yearly,” said Imperante. “We are fortunate to have one of the founding fathers with us, who is also a carpenter. He and some other talented men do a great deal of carpentry.”
For Imperante, the group of communal gardeners at Project Eden is a representation of the diversity of Queens. Volunteering is a labor of love and requires training. Interviews for prospective gardeners are generally conducted in the spring.
“We encourage neighborhood volunteers to assist us,” she said. “All gardeners must learn the watering process, since our water source is the hydrant around the corner of the block. Mowing and weed-whacking is necessary every couple of weeks.”
Project Eden has become an educational resource for children, who learn how to plant daffodils, and it has also become a tradition on Halloween afternoons for children in costume to visit and enjoy treats.
“This is a symbol of how caring neighbors over time made a junkyard into a paradise for the community,” Macaulay said.