Plants for Prosperity | | Santa Fe reporter

Observant cruisers in the Swan Park area will notice something different these days: a handful of new plant species are beginning life in the Southside Open Space. Give it a decade or so and the change will be complete, with a handful of Austrian pines stretching 40 to 50 feet into the sky.

The planting was done with the kind permission of young people from the region.

“My freshman year out of high school, I had this internship and we talked about the Southside and how it was kind of boring in places,” says Rodolfo “Rudy” Quiñonez, 18, who until recently lived in a series of motel rooms, while he and his brother struggled financially. “I’m glad I could help make it nicer.”

Quiñonez was one of about 10 at-risk young people that John Paul Granillo, a youth mentor at Santa Fe’s nonprofit YouthWorks, gathered for the sustainable beautification effort. Youthworks secured a $3,400 grant from Tierra Contenta for supplies, Granillo SFR said, and an additional $4,475 for wages from the New Mexico Conservation Corps.

Work began about three weeks ago, when Granillo partnered with the City of Santa Fe’s Department of Planning and Land Use to identify suitable plants for the project — almost all of which are native to the area and each species has been developed to help to thrive in the lowlands. watery desert. Lawrence Rivera, a department compliance officer, helped mark sites and then came to the park with Granillo and others on November 17 to prepare the children to dig.

“I’m used to working with landscapers, so it was different because they were kids,” Rivera tells SFR. “I gave them a little lesson about the plants and what kind of growth we would see. They were interested and respectful. It was pretty cool – most of them had never planted a plant before and had no idea how technical it could be.”

Granillo deliberately chose the planters: one had recently been in a car accident, others have experienced homelessness, one was struggling with the suicide of his brother. But Granillo, a longtime advocate for a focus on community building on the Southside, is interested in what young people can be, not what’s holding them back.

“When we talk about the kind of kids I work with, we tend to always see things as broken,” he says. “There is no hope. And a lot of the work I do with them is things like weeding: breaking, pulling; break, pull; break train. Why don’t we plant hope for this project – something to care for, something to love?”

Granillo and Rivera carefully selected the plants, and it’s an impressive list: nine three-leaf sumacs, six Apache plums, nine red yuccas, three sycamore mahogany, four lancebark elms, the Austrian pines, and more. Rivera says they’ve stuck to the native plant theme, except in the case of the pines, which are able to hold their own against the piñon and juniper beetle infestations that have troubled Santa Fe for the past three years.

“The plants had many strange names,” Quiñonez tells SFR, laughing.

Granillo’s was a perfect project for a native of Antony, NM. He has never liked working in cramped office spaces and he already had experience in landscaping. Also, Quiñonez is an artist, just like Granillo, so the two have more in common than planting seedlings in the ground.

Painting in acrylics and oils, Quiñonez describes his aesthetic as dark. Painting helped him get out of the “bad zone” as a kid, and the tree planting project acted as an extension of that.

“I’m really happy to be a part of it,” he says. “I’ve lived in places where there really isn’t anything for so long, and I wanted to use all those skills to make the Southside look nicer.”

Granillo hopes to extend the project into next year with more planting and path rehabilitation work. Once the ground thaws, there’s an opportunity to teach the youth about drip irrigation and more. Work could start in May or June, he says, and he’s already eyeing a few more sites on the south side for additional planting.

The work, Granillo says, is about fostering a family atmosphere and teaching young people who have trouble relying on each other.

“The easiest thing to do with these kids when they’re in trouble is ask, ‘Fuck it, let’s smoke weed or whatever,'” he says. “The hardest part is asking for help.”