Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 80 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The BBG’s amazing tulip collection was going full-force the day I visited. This time of year always makes me think that the Dutch 17th century tulip-mania wasn’t entirely irrational.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) is one of the two great arboretums (arboreta?) in the city.  It’s sibling/rival is the New York Botanic Garden in the Bronx, and there are a number of other botanic gardens of note, to say nothing of the great parks.  The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is also a bit problematic for me:  it was on the original list of all the museums in NYC, and even back in February I can remember thinking, “but is a botanic garden really a kind of museum?”

At best the answer is “sort of.”  I think of botanic gardens as zoos for plants, more than museums of plants.  What’s the difference?  A zoo and a museum can both be places of edification and entertainment. But I had trouble ranking BBG on the scale I’m using for this project–it didn’t turn out well, not because it’s a bad place, but because the museum yardstick doesn’t really work for it.

The great bits of the BBG are:

  • The Japanese Hill and Pond Garden
  • The Shakespeare Garden
  • The lilac hill
  • The rose garden (at its best in late spring through summer)
  • An estimable collection of bonsai
  • A fantastic cherry collection

The annual Sakura Matsuri, or Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, is a bonkers mix of cosplay and traditional dance and music. Packed with people but worth it.

Admissions line to the BBG, random spring Saturday

About the only downside of the BBG is that it can be immensely crowded.  Not the whole place of course, and not every day.  But on a nice weekend day in springtime, the picturesque parts of the gardens are packed with hipsters and others, out for an Instagrammable moment in the sun.  To the point where I wonder if it’s really worth paying $15 for an experience you could closely replicate right next door in Prospect Park for free.

I guess that’s my big point of hesitation with any botanic garden:  if you’re looking for a quiet tree under which to read a book, or spring blossoms to admire, or a place for a picnic with friends, all those things are available other, freer places, which might even be less crowded than the garden is.

Of course the garden is educational and beautiful.  

There are some art pieces by Shayne Dark installed currently (hit or miss, though I do like the faceted steel boulders), and you can definitely learn about going greener, or about desert or rainforest ecosystems in the small greenhouse the BBG maintains.  And it has a children’s garden and other educational areas as well.

Whether I’d advise going to the BBG…in some ways, of course.  It’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon outdoors. But I can’t give it an unadulterated, unhesitating “go!” recommendation, on two counts.

First, the aforementioned over-crowdedness.  The garden is at its peak of beauty in springtime, but it’s also at its peak of annoyingness.  Any other season, on a day with nice weather, I’d say it’s worth it.  But in springtime, I’d regretfully advise avoiding it on weekends. Or at least go forewarned.

Second, if you only have time or desire to visit one botanic garden in New York City, go to the New York Botanic Garden in the Bronx instead.  It is much bigger, usually less crowded, the greenhouse environments are larger and prettier, and the spring flowers are more spectacular.  It can’t match Brooklyn on cherries, but it has a whole hill of crab apples that this time of year are magnificent.  It’s got the last patch of old-growth forest inside the city limits.  It’s got a waterfall.

So BBG, with its convenience both a blessing and a curse, should be your second botanic garden visit.

For Reference:

Address 990 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn (convenient entrance on Eastern Parkway near the Brooklyn Museum)
Website bbg.org
Cost  General Admission:  $15
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