Irene Virag's Garden Party

I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Remembering Judy Zuk

Just a couple of weeks ago, I spent a lovely summer day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, enthralled by the water lilies and the roses and the crape myrtles. I’m so glad I did.

Today I learned that Judith D. Zuk – who led the garden with grace and elegance for more than 15 years – died over the weekend.

Judy was my sister in the sorority no one wants to pledge – the sisterhood of women scarred by breast cancer. And she was my friend in the way all gardeners are friends – connected by our love of the earth between our fingers, by our wonder at a sprouting seed and the miracle of the bulbs.

I met Judy my first week on the job as Newsday’s garden columnist. When it came to horticulture, I was as green as a tree leafing out in spring. But the president of BBG walked around the garden with me. That’s the way she was. And from that moment, I never missed a chance to visit.

Judy called me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And a few years later, I called her when she was diagnosed. My scars healed. Hers didn’t – her cancer metastasized and eventually claimed her life at the age of 55.

But not her spirit. You can see it and feel it in the 52-acre public garden where she cultivated her passion for plants. Where under her watchful eye, innovative programs took root – such as Brooklyn GreenBridge, a community-based effort that teaches composting and conservation and shares seeds and bulbs throughout the borough, and Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment, a themed public high school that weaves academic subjects and environmental issues. And where gardens in every nook and cranny were restored and enhanced – the Children’s Garden, which is the oldest in the nation, and the Lily Pool, the Fragrance Garden, the Cranford Rose Garden and the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.

And where the magnolia garden was named for her when she retired in 2005. Judy loved magnolias and the plaza in front of the Administration Building blooms in spring with the magnificent flowers of 17 different varieties.

One of them is Magnolia x Judy Zuk. Its golden yellow blossom touched at the base with a hint of plum was created at BBG and named for the woman who was the fifth president in the garden’s 100-year history.

I thought about Judy when I walked through the magnolia plaza on my recent visit. I promised her I’d come again in the spring when her favorite flower is in bloom.

As it turns out, I'll be at the garden before then. I'll be there for her memorial service on September 23.

Photo credits:
*Portrait of Judith Zuk by The Lindner Studio, courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Garden
*Magnolia x Judy Zuk by Patrick Cullina, courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Garden
*Judith D. Zuk Magnolia Plaza by Leeann Lavin, courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Garden

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