Queens Botanical Garden

Edification value 2/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 84 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The plants are terrific, but I will pick this tucked-away sundial.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

It was a gift from Queens-based Bulova Watch Company, and a garden resident since April of 1951!

I still wonder whether I was right to include botanical gardens in my definition of museums. However, I did it, and I haven’t undone it. So another garden it is. I didn’t even know the Queens Botanical Garden existed when I started this project.  However, it does bill itself as “a living museum,” so its staff seem to agree with me.  It also calls itself “a place of peace and beauty for the quiet enjoyment of our visitors.” Please reserve your noisy enjoyment for places like the American Museum of Natural History.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

Like the Queens Museum and a number of other borough institutions, the Queens Botanical Garden traces its origins to the 1939 World’s Fair. It started as the “Gardens on Parade” exhibition at the Fair, and remained on the fair’s site until 1961, when it moved to its current location, 39 acres on Main Street in Flushing.

Green Acres

Queens Botanical Garden, FlushingThirty-nine acres isn’t terribly much by New York garden standards, and indeed, you always feel like you’re in the city while you’re there. You never get too far from the traffic and buildings of the outside world, the way you can amid the vastness of the New York Botanical Garden, Woodlawn, or Green-Wood.

That said, the garden makes the most of the space it does have. It feels almost magical that this peaceful haven is only 10 minutes’ walk from the crowds and bustle (and terrific food) of downtown Flushing’s burgeoning Chinatown.

Like the other botanical gardens, Queens’s isn’t just about pretty plants in a bucolic (or faux-bucolic) setting. Rather it tells a story about the environment and going green, including things like a lengthy display about composting and a spiffy modern visitor center featuring a green roof, with a gentle slope you can stroll up. Also bees. There’s a garden full of hives with a nice encomium to bees.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing
The Buzz About Bees

The interior of the Visitor Center is largely a gift shop, but it also includes art gallery space as well. I caught a display of photographs (by the Professional Women Photographers) that unfortunately erred on the side of quantity rather than quality — lots of small prints, many of which failed to impress.

Like the Queens County Farm Museum, I imagine the Botanical Garden gets a lot of field trips when school is in session. I got the sense that teaching city kids where fruits and vegetables come from constitutes a not inconsiderable part of the mission statement.

Diversity of Sorts

The Queens Botanical Garden embraces the diversity of its borough, at least in its signage. All the maps and directions come in English, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese. However, in terms of the gardens and plants themselves, I was surprised at the garden’s conventionality. You got your rose garden (ideal this time of year), your culinary garden, your garden of fragrance, your pinetum… the arboretum must-haves.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing
“You’ve got your rose garden…”

The Wedding Garden, only open for nuptials, has a few small stone pagodas scattered around, and you can find them in a couple of other places in the garden as well. But the garden’s plantings could do much more to reflect the people who surround it. Staten Island has a beautiful Chinese Scholar’s Garden; the Queens Botanical Garden should have something similar.

And/or plants that reflect African, Caribbean, or Latin American gardening, agriculture, and nature since so many of today’s Queens residents come from those places.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

Granted the place does not have much space to play with. But having landscaping and plants that better reflect its neighbors would seem a better use of that space, as well as differentiating from the city’s other botanical gardens.

Should You Visit the Queens Botanical Garden?

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing
Pretty Green Visitor’s Center

The Queens Botanical Garden is really nice. It absolutely offers a great, quiet green space to everyone who lives near it. However, unless you are some kind of arboretum obsessive, you will be just fine skipping it. The Brooklyn Botanic and New York Botanical Gardens are far bigger and more impressive. And the Bronx’s Wave Hill offers the best combination of art, architecture, and nature in New York.

However, if you and friends are going to Flushing to explore food courts, eat a galaxy of dumplings, buy a durian, or have dim sum, you can impress them by throwing in a side trip to this little-known urban oasis.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

For Reference:

Address 43-50 Main Street, Flushing, Queens
Website queensbotanical.org
Cost  General Admission:  $6 (Free from November-March)
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