The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a pint-size treasure that always seems bigger than it is (and which occupies an outsize place in botanical research) was this week's answer to Where in the World is TravelGumbo? Because the Garden presents an array of over 10,000 varieties, it was easy to mislead, and not easy to nudge the guessers off investigating the native habitat of the "clue" plant, seen here.
While the Garden is only 52 acres, squeezed into a sliver between two avenues, it's often possible as you walk to forget you're so close to city streets, even on days when it's so crowded it seems all of the annual million-plus visitors must be there at once.
And it's a densely-planned garden with a number of specialty "gardens within the Garden, including a native flora garden, herb garden, Shakespeare garden, rose garden, cherry esplanade, and more. And there are the indoor biomes for tropical and desert plants. And a bonsai museum. And the first and oldest Children's Garden in a botanic garden, where my children once spent summers growing far too much zucchini.
In the Fragrance Garden, plants are selected for their aromas, and Braille signs at each help blind people enjoy the garden, too.
These pictures are nearly all from a visit last weekend, which turned out to be one of the busiest days of the year...I had lost track of the calendar and picked the weekend of the annual Cherry Blosson festival; the garden was filled with all things cherry and Japanese, even though the bulk of the blossoms waited another week.
A sample of the Cherry Blossom Festival visitors. The young woman on the right corrected me when I asked about her butterfly; she informed me that it was a scythe. Live and learn.
But for those to whom blossoms are the key, there was still a treat. The Garden's Magnolia Court, with a dozen varieties, was in full bloom. Historically a southern tree, the Garden played an important role in preserving and propagating some of these varieties. While we admired them, we picked one as a possible replacement for the elderly street tree in front of our house when it goes.
The Garden opened in 1910 on land originally meant to be part of Prospect Park, and some of its best features were built in the early years. The Children's Garden program, designed to keep city children connected to the sources of food, opened in 1914, as did the Japanese garden, first ever in an American park.
Headquarters of the Children's Garden, and a view into the plots being prepared for spring planting.
The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden has always been a favorite of mine in the 40+ years we've lived in the neighborhood. It's had hard times when maintenance money was hard to find, but the past 15 years have been kinder, and it had a full restoraation in 2000.
It includes paths, bridges and an island. It's considered by many to be the master-piece of its designer, Takeo Shiota.
The stone lantern at right, 10 feet high and weighing 3 tons, dates to 1652. It was presented to the Garden in 1980 on the 20th anniversary of the sister cities bond of New York and Tokyo.
Over the years, the other features appeared, including the Rose Garden, with over 1000 varieties, and the fairly recent native flora garden, growing out of a realization that in the attempt to let us become familiar with the flora of other lands, many of us knew little about our own. Recent initiatives have extended that idea into a section focusing on the plants we eat and their varieties.
Entrance to the Rose Garden...nothing to see yet this season
The Garden isn't just a place to visit; aside from its research programs, it's actively involved in outreach projects, including a resource library for local gardeners, support for urban composting programs, and a wide range of activities geared to school class trips. There's even an outdoor school lunch area open for trips.
In the Shakespeare Garden, more than 40 plants mentioned in his plays and poetry are identified, along with matching quotations.
The "green" emphasis, which seems only natural for a garden, is also seen in the new visitor center opened last year: it's heated by a geothermal well, and it boasts a living roof that not only reduces the visible bulk of the building, but also helps sustain its interior climate. Yes, the second picture is also part of the roof.
BBG's location has an important geological component: It's located on a ridge that divides Brooklyn east to west along the edge of a terminal moraine, essentially a heap of rubble left behind at the furthest point of a glacier. One little-known corner of the garden has an exhibit of "glacial erratics"—rock samples left behind by the glacier, but not belonging to the area...essentially out-of-place like the more tropical plants, but accidentally. When my wife taught Earth Science in a high school across the street, they were useful! The small plaques identify the rocks and the best guess as to where the glacier carried them from.
For me, the garden, along with Prospect Park, is part of my "backyard." When I go there, I don't think of myself as a traveler, even though we visit such places when we're on the road. It's a sort of paradox; one of the reasons for travel is to learn what is similar or different from the familiar, and that causes us sometimes to dismiss the familiar as worth traveling to. In the case of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, it's certainly worth a trip. In the meantime, here are some more views...
Waiting for water lilies (long wait!) and watching the carp, some of them quite large
More magnolia, above, and spruce varieties
The garden's Cherry Esplanade has over 200 trees of 42 Asian varieties. Only a few were fully in bloom for this year's festival, but a calendar on the Garden's website shows the progress, tree-by-tree. The central esplanade is spectacular. Below, glimpsed from above, some of the festival crowds.
It's not just willows that weep; here's a sizable weeping beech; there are also weeping cherry trees in the Hill-and-Pond garden. I wish I had a summer view to show you...this one, in leaf, forms a hiding space for children that makes them invisible until you get really close.
Tulips are a big spring attraction at the Garden; we saw 50+ varieties in bloom, with more coming almost daily. BBG sells bulbs and plants through its store, and the spring members-only preview of the spring sale is an immensely popular event. As I write this, it's only two days away!
BBG's indoor exhibits deserve attention, too. The Palm House, by the way, no longer holds palms, but weddings and receptions. The palms are now in the more recent Steinhardt Conservatory, which has three pavilions (tropical, desert and temperate) connected to a common below-ground area which also houses an art collection and changing exhibits.
The current main exhibit in the common area is a display of outdoor bonsai, brought indoors only for the show. My favorite is this miniature magnolia, 110 years old.