Battery Park City Gets a New Green Thumb

Ryan TorresRyan Torres in Battery Park City

Last month, the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy welcomed Ryan Torres as its new Horticulture Foreperson, replacing Eileen Calvanese, who retired in August. Since May, 2011, Mrs. Torres served as horticulturalist for the Town of North Hempstead in Nassau County on Long Island and she was director for the Clark Botanic Garden in Albertson, a 12-acre living museum and educational facility.

A certified horticulturalist, Mrs. Torres is also a landscape and nursery professional, and a certified arborist, credentialed by the International Society of Arboriculture. In addition, she is an educator at the New York Botanical Garden, where she teaches weed, insect and disease identification and management.

“Horticulture runs in my blood,” says Ms. Torres, whose great-grandfather started a nursery business, Santelli & Sons, Inc., in Great Neck, Long Island. “And I also know the business,” she adds, noting that she is carrying on the family’s interest and expertise in cultivating plants and trees for the fourth generation.

A passionate conservationist, Mrs. Torres practiced recycling at the Clark Botanic Garden, where she and the staff watered flowers and soaked beds with recycled rain. They also gave rain barrels to neighbors, and the idea caught on — becoming so successful that they started a community composting project as well.

But Mrs. Torres is as well practiced in dealing with nature’s wrath as its beauty: Hurricane Sandy damaged some 75 trees at the Albertson facility, which she said was mostly caused by the wind and the salt spray. The year before, a summer microburst also cut down over 50 trees that had to be replanted after the storm.

Mrs. Torres says that the immediate lesson learned from those storms was to ensure tree roots have enough space to grow. A second, broader insight, she says, was to look at the long-term effects of decisions. “It’s not what we do today, it’s what we are doing for the future,” she reflects.

Mrs. Torres came to Battery Park City because of the opportunity to work in an organic environment and an urban landscape, unlike the Clark, which was surrounded by suburban houses with yards. In addition, at the Clark, she managed three employees, and now she is in charge of a staff of 20. She also worked with 150 volunteers, from high school and college students to adults.

This is relevant experience for the Conservancy, says T. Fleisher, Director of Horticulture at the Conservancy. “We like to encourage our volunteers and we want them to come back — so we hope to help them have a good experience,” he notes. “Our philosophy is that a public space can be maintained through sustainable means, and a strong volunteer force is integral to the process of getting the message out beyond the borders of Battery Park City.”

Mrs. Torres sees her new position at the Conservancy as the next step in a logical progression: “A lot is similar, yet everything is different — the landscape; the types of trees — it is changing my perspective as a horticulturalist.” And she says she is still learning the history of the gardens in the Conservancy. “In Teardrop, she notes, leaning forward, “I feel like I am in the Adirondacks — you just get drawn in.”

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