Thousands of plants grown for annual garden festival donated to East End hospitals

For 25 years, the annual East End Garden Festival has become an unofficial marker of Mother’s Day weekend.

The annual fundraiser, which has supported both Peconic Bay Medical Center and the International Surgical Mission, could not take place this year due to concerns over the coronavirus, but nearly two dozen growers have teamed up to keep the tradition alive.

In lieu of the festival typically held at Tanger Outlets, thousands of plants were donated to hospital workers across all three East End hospitals.

“The Riverhead Rotary wanted to do something for the hospital workers and were able to contact the growers that normally help us,” said Darrien Garay, special gifts officer for the PBMC Foundation and also a member of the Riverhead Rotary.

“They wanted to bring a smile to everyone’s faces here, which has been successful so far. We’ve seen a lot of happy people and it’s a good way to kick off Mother’s Day weekend,” Mr. Garay said.

The parking lot at Mercy High School, which was recently acquired to become Peconic Bay Medical Center’s northeast campus, was transformed into a pop-up nursery Friday morning as doctors, nurses, security guards and other employees perused the displays in search of the perfect Mother’s Day plant during their shift change.

Riverhead Rotarian Bill Sanok helped organize the effort and noted that all hospital employees at Peconic Bay Medical Center, Stony Brook Southampton and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island in Greenport will receive a plant.

“It’s not just nurses and doctors,” he said. “Working under these conditions, you go to the hospital with the potential of infecting yourself and bringing it home. It takes a special person,” Mr. Sanok said.

Nearly two dozen local growers, including Kurt Weiss Greenhouses, Ivy Acres, Landcrafters, Beds & Borders and Van de Wetering Greenhouses, donated a selection of rose bushes, azaleas, rhododendrons and an assortment of hanging baskets and shrubs.

In addition, employees at all three hospitals—nearly 3,000—will receive a white orchid from Bianchi-Davis Greenhouses. Owner Bill Bianchi said in an interview this week that it’s been an “unusual” spring since growers plan based on their sales from years prior.

“We have all these beautiful plants,” he said. “We’ve never had an excess like this before, and I thought it would be the right thing to do to honor all of our emergency and hospital workers.”

Mr. Garay said the plants are providing some well-needed morale to the staff, who gathered Thursday evening for a private candlelight vigil to honor patients they’ve lost to COVID-19.

“Things are doing better at the hospital too, so there’s hope on the horizon,” Mr. Garay added, alluding to a regional trend that indicates hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are slowing.

Among the hospital employees selecting plants in Riverhead was Maureen Stefanidis, nurse manager of the Intensive Care and Progressive Care units at PBMC, who said the annual garden festival is always an event she looks forward to.

“It’s such a sweet gesture,” she said as she picked out plants alongside fellow nurses. “So many people have done amazing things in the community and it’s finally getting better. Staff on the unit are finally able to laugh, take breaks. It feels good.”

Members of the Riverhead, Greenport and Southampton rotaries will continue the initiative at all three hospitals Saturday.