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Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Back Home


The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is, I like to say, practically in my backyard. It's actually a few short blocks away, and, as a member for many years, a pleasant way to walk from one neighborhood to the next off the streets.


But I hadn't been there for months; the last time was a cold walk with my wife in January, and then, by the time weather had eased at all, the Garden was closed by the pandemic. Even though I was free to walk in Prospect Park, across the street, I could only peer through the Garden fence.


So, a few weeks ago, with the Garden again open to visitors, albeit in limited numbers and with the indoor conservatories closed. I happily spent a morning re-exploring the Garden and feeling as if I were 'home' again.


BBG is not a big garden in area, but it is so varied in its exhibits and so well laid out that you'd never guess it's only 52 acres. Within that space it manages to host sizable conservatories, a court lined with magnificent magnolias, a large rose garden, special areas for native plants, fragrant plants, plants mentioned by Shakespeare, and more.


One of the central features is a Japanese Hill-and-Pond garden, tucked into a central area, surrounded by all kinds of other things, and yet seemingly isolated when you are in it.


My daughter and I found some surprises as we walked: a tree that might be Harry Potter, struck by lightning and yet alive, if bolted together, and a small amphitheatre, on a ridge behind the Japanese Garden. In nearly fifty years of wandering the Garden I had never seen it, and was surprised to discover that it is actually a restoration done 30 years ago. The bas-relief is by Daniel Chester French, who created the Lincoln sculpture in the Lincoln Memorial.

The installation is a memorial for Alfred Tredway White, a 19th-century housing reformer and philanthropist, and one of the founding donors of the Garden. The scene was our One-Clue Mystery this week, and even George G, our master solver, called it an 'exceptionally difficult mystery,' although he did solve it!


There's room for some fauna as well as the flora...the pond is also home to a very large colony of decorative koi and abandoned household goldfish.


Near the center of the garden, an armillary sphere models the solar system; I only know that because I looked it up just now, knowing that it could not be what some young children called it: 'the monkey globe.' I will add that when they said that, they were climbing all over it, monkeying around.


Despite its relatively small size, the Garden offers some rolling open spaces and pleasant vistas that invite a rest, a break, a snack, a quiet moment when the low hum of invisible traffic from not so far away fades out completely.


Among the Garden's recent developments has been a water garden near the south end; it is not only decorative, but also plays a part in capturing, cleaning and re-using groundwater in the park, as well as allowing planting of a variety of plants that thrive along its banks. A couple of years ago, when it was new, it seemed bare and desolate, but clearly the planners knew what they were doing!


BBG's Children's Garden, dating to 1914, may be the oldest children's gardening program in the country, teaching children to garden in small plots, and allowing them to take home their produce. My children took part years ago, and my mother did, too, over 90 years ago.


This year, with the Garden closed to visitors, the staff turned the Children's Garden to a different purpose; the space was used to grow fruit and vegetables that were distributed through local food banks.


Time for two more flowers, two of so many... It's good to be home!



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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