The Schoolyard Garden

Wall Street Journal
A Garden Grows in a Schoolyard
May 13, 2011

Hillary Macklowe wanted to surprise her husband, Benjamin Macklowe, with a memorable gift for his 40th birthday.

Mr. Macklowe, vice president of his family’s Upper East Side Macklowe Gallery that specializes in 20th-century decorative arts, insisted on no gifts and no big bash for his December birthday.

But Mrs. Macklowe, 35 years old, was undeterred. She knows that her husband of nearly 10 years loves a party and she wanted to give him a “great experience,” she says, deciding that the gift should reflect his love of the outdoors.

Through the New York Restoration Project’s Gardens for the City program, Mrs. Macklowe surprised her husband with the gift of a new schoolyard garden for about 900 students at P.S. 123 in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit founded by actress and comedian Bette Midler, is dedicated to protecting and greening the city’s public spaces and parks.

Mrs. Macklowe says that her husband loves to play and they both love children. “A schoolyard made the most sense for us,” she says. “It perfectly matches his personality.”

She set to raising the $25,000 for the garden by contacting their friends and family members. In an invitation to a surprise cocktail party, she asked guests to “give him a present that will last beyond his years and have great impact on a school and its students for years to come.”

Mrs. Macklowe served a garden-inspired cake and Mr. Macklowe was given a three-foot-tall birthday card inscribed with the names of those who donated to the garden.

“When I opened up the card and realized that we were going to be, in a very small way but in a meaningful way, changing the lives of New York City schoolchildren ”¦ I just started to cry. It made me so happy,” says Mr. Macklowe.

The present didn’t end with a card. Mrs. Macklowe insisted that the gift include a hands-on component. So this weekend, with their friends, family members, some children from the school and with New York Restoration Project staff, the Macklowes will complete the garden transformation.

They will plant bushes, six flower beds and nearly a dozen trees. There will be roses and lavandula, blueberry and lilac bushes, and vegetable beds with lettuces, herbs, beans, peppers and tomatoes. The school will maintain the space and an educator from the New York Restoration Project will teach an environmental class to students.

“We’re just so jazzed to have the community there and some of our friends there,” says Mr. Macklowe.

Adds Mrs. Macklowe: “I knew that this present would be absolutely perfect for him.”

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