Simone Marques had been looking at the patch of dirt outside her building for a long time. It was an empty tree bed, a square of earth in the middle of a New York City sidewalk. One summer day, she decided to finally do something about it. “I'd been reading about the declining number of bees and other pollinators,” she says, “and I thought I could help.” Simone decided to plant a few sunflowers, turning the tree bed into a garden. Soon, she began drawing attention from passers-by. “Some of my neighbors said I was crazy to plant in a public space because nobody would respect the garden,” she remembers, “but many people stopped to congratulate me for doing it. I decided to listen to the optimists.”
The tree bed was now home to dozens of sunflowers, and both bees and neighbors alike took pleasure in them. “I loved how kids were curious about gardening and excited to help,” Simone remembers. “That motivated me to continue.” By the following summer, Simone was maintaining seven public gardens in her area. The year after that, she was up to fifteen. Then, in 2019, she decided to take things up another notch.
“I received the proper training in tree caring with NYC Parks Department,” Simone says, “and I became a Street Tree Care Captain.” Tree care requires cleanup, mulching, cultivating, and weeding the beds of neighborhood trees. “With their support and also the support of Partnerships for Parks, I organized three Beautification Days in my neighborhood, caring for one hundred fifty street trees.”
The Beautification Days required a group effort, and Simone took to social media to recruit. She quickly found that interested community members weren’t very difficult to find. Pretty soon, she was leading a cadre of like-hearted others to adopt and care for trees around New York City. “Our volunteers are neighbors who are interested in gardening and the environment, from all ages and backgrounds,” she says, noting that everyone has a role they can play in tree care. “Even 'disabled' people are able to help a lot with the planning, promotion, reception, and more.” For Simone, the team mentality and inclusiveness means that every bit of effort goes a long way. “Each small or big action is very important.”
Beyond the obvious aesthetic and environmental benefits, Simone also gets plenty of personal enrichment from caring for the trees and plants in her neighborhood. “Life is not perfect, and not everything is as pretty as flowers,” she says, “but you learn about being patient and having resilience [through this work], and those lessons you'll take with you and apply them in other aspects of your life.”
Simone continues to beautify the trees in her neighborhood that she’s adopted, and founded the Green and Blue Eco Care Club to invite others to join. “If you have open eyes and an open heart, it's one of the most rewarding experiences you can have,” Simone says. “I challenge you to plant some sunflowers seeds and watch all the small miracles of life. Care for your street tree and observe how many positive things will follow, from day one.”