176 minutes (including lunch) — I could easily spend a whole day
Best thing I saw or learned
The display of plant carnivores: flytraps, sundews, pitcher plants. My favorite members of the floral kingdom.
Both New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike tend to think of the Bronx as entirely, unremittingly gray: paved urban overdevelopment at its very worst. In reality, the Bronx features large expanses of green.
Wave Hill and the other verdant bits of Riverdale along the Hudson are beautiful.
Woodlawn Cemetery recently got certified as an arboretum.
And let’s not forget the Zoo.
But of all the many green spaces the Bronx has to offer, the most beautiful must surely be the New York Botanical Garden.
The New York Botanical Garden dates to 1891 and sprawls across 250 acres. (Don’t worry, there’s a tram.) Its vast holdings include a spectacular neoclassical Herbarium & Library, and an even more spectacular glass conservatory. Calvert Vaux and the Olmstead Brothers had hands in the Garden’s design, and of course it’s hard to beat them for this sort of thing. Continue reading “New York Botanical Garden”
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.
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.
990 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn (convenient entrance on Eastern Parkway near the Brooklyn Museum)