Home & Garden

Tree donation to Fairchild provides environmental lesson

Some people give potted plants as gifts.

Janá Sigars-Malina gives towering trees – some that stretch majestically 50 feet into the air.

Sigars-Malina recently donated a number of mature native hardwood hammock trees ranging from 20 to 35 years old from her Coconut Grove home to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables.

As she plans to downsize from the family home on Kiaora Street to a smaller house in the South Grove, she wants the trees, which she started collecting years ago, to have a safe space in which to grow when she’s gone.

“They are like my babies,” she said. “I just value the trees and don’t want them to be hurt.”

In addition, Sigars-Malina wants to honor the memory of her husband Jay Malina, an executive and leader of the One Community One Goal job-creation organization in Miami. Malina was posthumously honored with the Beacon Council’s creation of the Jay Malina Award for executives who successfully combine business and community involvement.

The trees at Fairchild are dedicated to her husband and also will serve as an environmental preservation lesson to the couple’s twin daughters Brezlan and Makenna, who were not quite 2 when their dad died in 2002.

“I’m trying to teach my children about the environment,” said Sigars-Malina, a member of Fairchild’s board of trustees since 2000. “It’s a passion, and a desire, to help my children learn how they have to protect the environment.”

The process of preparing the trees for relocation to the 83-acre Fairchild Garden began with root pruning 18 months ago, said Keith Lane of Signature Trees and Palms, a local family-run landscaping business.

The trees are then “cradled” during the rigging process to reduce stress on the trunk and avoid stripping away any bark as they are lifted with hydrocranes onto specialized trucks. Stripping the bark would kill the tree.

“This project was not about tearing a garden apart; it was about carrying on a legacy for the Malina family,” Lane said. “This is a very significant donation. There is nothing ordinary about it. Most people selling their house will just sell the trees with the house and let the next owner worry about what to do with them. Few people think about donating trees to a botanical garden.”

The first haul — three 25-foot redberry stoppers, three lignum vitaes that range from 13- to 18-feet and a 28-foot black ironwood — already are up and thriving in their lush new Fairchild home that surrounds the coming Adam R. Rose and Peter R. McQuillan Art Center.

The one-story, multi-purpose building, named for two New York philanthropists with a passion for botanical gardens, will include an art gallery, an archive, and act as a cultural center that will feature chamber music concerts. The donated trees will make the building of stone and copper look as if it has been on the grounds since 1938, the year the garden opened to the public, said Bruce Greer, president of Fairchild’s board of trustees. The garden now has more than 50,000 members, a ten-fold increase in the last 20 years.

Still other trees, including three Marquesas palms and the largest of the lignum vitae, await planting at the center that is scheduled to be completed in late March. The gift of native trees of this magnitude to the historical gardens is “unprecedented,” Greer said.

“Some of these stoppers could not be acquired anywhere. There are lignum vitae native to the Keys and really mature specimens so it’s a wonderful coincidence, or luck, that she made these trees available at a time when this building was being finished. We wouldn’t want to put in small, immature specimens. This allows us to enhance with some magnificent specimens that really are about the same age as other plantings in the garden.”

Sigars-Malina, an intellectual property attorney, said she’s excited the trees will be taken care of at Fairchild.

“The kids will always be able to see them and remember their father,” she said. “Jay’s legacy will never be forgotten. Fairchild is a really special place.”

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.