Upon walking into the pool area at Arthur J. Hendrickson Park, there is a luscious decor of plants and trees that line the recreational space, bringing life to its otherwise Spartan concrete sprawl. The floral aesthetic of the pool is one that has been carefully crafted over years of work, spearheaded by village employee and horticulturist Eugene Boening.
Plant care has been a defining trait of the Boening family for more than 90 years, having owned and operated Boening Florist on West Merrick Road from 1919 to 2011, when it closed its doors for the final time.
“My great grandfather started the business, and I grew up there,” Boening explained. “When you’re a kid in the family business, you start early, helping out around the shop, so I learned a lot from that.”
When he began working for the village after the shuttering of his family business, Boening’s expertise quickly became apparent to his co-workers.
“We had planted in the past,” said pool manager Rich DeAngelis, “but Eugene’s efforts raised the bar.”
Boening’s role at the pool is multifaceted, and requires a level of botanical expertise that has proven valuable to improving and maintaining the beautification of not just the pool, but all village facilities and spaces. His small, walled garden, tucked away in a corner of the pool complex contains a vast array of plants ranging from maple and spruce trees to sunflowers and red tropical dracaenas. Their lush leaves serve as a testament to Boening’s expertise in his craft.
“We started off with 10 of these, and we propagate them,” Boening said, motioning towards a now-plentiful stretch of canna plants in his garden. “At the end of the season, we take them out, and we separate them into a big container. In the springtime, we repack them. This all cost us nothing.”
It is common for Boening to receive donated plants, trees or cuttings from Valley Stream residents who have heard that he might be able to put them to use, and he recalled an instance in which one, after her mother’s passing, invited him to take with him some of her garden, which had been in the family for generations.
The pool isn’t the only location in Valley Stream where Boening’s impact can be seen. He, along with some of his fellow pool workers, has been lending their green thumbs to beautification efforts on Rockaway Avenue and on South Cottage Street.
“The trees on Rockaway Avenue were dying from a fungus that’s common on Long Island, so Eugene was asked to help,” DeAngelis said. “We’ve placed pots out there and the beautification process is ongoing.”
On South Cottage, Boening recounted an instance in which rows of plants, where the street splits into two lanes, had died. “We talked with the residents there,” he said, “and they asked if we could do anything.”
“I took a look at what I had here and realized that we could instead make it a single row, and we were able to [replant] the whole strip,” he said, adding that the village plans to plant a tree at the location in the fall.
In regards to the pool space, Boening’s work has not gone unnoticed to patrons, for whom his plantings have garnered a following.
“Every year, on the pool’s opening day, people come in and look around trying to figure out what’s new,” he said. “We get a lot of compliments on the plants, and how they really make it feel more like a country club than a municipal pool.”
And the plants, DeAngelis said, give residents a sense of ownership over the village facility.
“People walk past the pool,” he said, “and all the work that Eugene’s done makes them smile and appreciate where they live.”