Ellen: This will be, for me, possibly the most embarrassing “How Have I Never Been Here Before?” entry on this blog. My commute takes me past an entrance to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden every day, and eighteen months after moving to this neighborhood, I’d never stepped inside until this weekend.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden stretches across 52 acres. While we made a dent in its exhibits, we didn’t come close to seeing them all. As one might expect in a place whose main attraction is plants, must-see sights vary by season, too: the Sakura Matsuri cherry blossom festival brings in big crowds in April, and there’s winter-specific programming during the cold months.
Casey: A caveat: when we made this trek, it was 94 degrees outside, with a heat index of 109. So keep that in mind when considering time estimates and overall enthusiasm, because it definitely waned after about an hour’s worth of melting. However, unlike Ellen, I have visited BBG before, and the previous trip clocked in the four hour range.
Traversing the grounds is really more of a meandering situation; there’s a lot to see, but a lot of the paths loop and criss-cross, and in the spaces where you’re allowed to walk on the grass, it lends to a lot of doubling back on oneself. (In other words, you will definitely get your step count in.)
Ellen: From the Eastern Parkway entrance, you’re immediately dropped into the long stretch of the Osborne Garden. Surrounded by greenery, but with the tops of Brooklyn apartment buildings still visible in the distance: a perfect encapsulation of the Botanic Garden.
Casey: That water isn’t extra blue; in the background is one of a series of nature-themed and nature-made art installations by artist Shayne Dark. The pieces are up through July of 2017, so keep an eye out.
Native Flora Garden
Ellen: The Native Flora Garden showcases species native to the area… as you might have guessed from the name. Narrow, dirt paths, small hills, and tangled branches make this section feel rough, as though you’re hiking in the forest, or at least a less-tamed park. Some of the plants had great names, like this pair of ferns.
Some other critters were enjoying the local flora, too.
Casey: I did enjoy the “off the beaten path” feel in some aspects of the park. Allowing visitors to move across grassy fields and rough terrain, and not just on the paved paths, does help remove the feeling that you’re still within the confines of a major urban area.
Cranford Rose Garden
Ellen: I’d thought that perhaps there wouldn’t be too many roses still blooming in September. My overstuffed memory card would tell you that I was wrong. While some of the bushes were dried up and brown, there were enough colorful blooms to keep us occupied for, I think, longer than we spent in any other part of the Garden. I can’t imagine what it’s like in high season.
We enjoyed the sometimes unexpected names of the varietals displayed here, too, from Betty Boop to Senior Prom to William Shakespeare 2000 (Robot Shakespeare??).
Casey: Fun fact: A helpful trip to the Visitor’s Center (which we ended up doing dead last) informed us that rose blooming season is actually in June and September.
Ellen: Quoting from the website: the Bonsai Museum’s “collection of approximately 350 trees is the second oldest in the country and one of the largest on public display outside Japan, with as many as 30 specimens on exhibit at any given time.” The spare, open room sets off the trees quite nicely, though the collection is a lot to take in at once; by the 20th tree, I wasn’t appreciating the details that had struck me about the first few.
Ellen: The Steinhardt Conservatory (which houses the Bonsai Museum) also has a blissfully air-conditioned downstairs lobby, from which you can enter three pavilions, each dedicated to a different climate.
My favorite was the Desert Pavilion. I have a thing for cacti, possibly as a result of living in the desert for a few years. Though I also enjoyed the Warm Temperate Pavilion, which housed several species native to South Africa — my next non-NYC travel destination.
Casey: The air-conditioned lobby was a fun surprise. And going in and out of the pavilions into the blissful lobby was, as we overheard one woman put it, like a spa treatment. The Tropical pavilion, which is probably delightful at any other time of year when it is not 94 degrees outside, was my favorite, I think – loaded with tropical fruit trees, although we were advised to not pick any fruit.
Ellen: The sign at the entrance to the Fragrance Garden bills it as “the first garden in the country designed for the sight-impaired.” Many of the plants therein are labeled in Braille.
Late summer is perhaps not the best time for a visit to this garden. While it was fun to lean over and smell the plants, some of them looked rather wilted and the scents didn’t permeate the garden in the way I’d expected. I suspect it’s more striking in spring and early summer.
Ellen: This garden delighted me, despite the fact that by this point in our trek we were both delirious from the heat. (Because of?) Maybe because I’m a literature nerd, or maybe just because I’m easily entertained. The Shakespeare Garden contains plants mentioned in his plays, some of which are labeled with a quote from the relevant work. I would go back just to read every sign.
Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden
Casey: The Garden is celebrating its centennial of the Hill-and-Pond Garden, a shaded looping tour of the pond, which houses all kinds of interesting wildlife. If at this point in the day, your eyes are getting a little tired from looking at stagnant flowers, keep yourself entertained by looking out for turtles sunning themselves, and fish poking at the pond surface.
Ellen: Benches, lots of shade, and the striking torii gate in the middle of the pond made this a soothing final stop on our Garden outing. I would enjoy picking a spot and relaxing here for a few hours, but only if it’s about 20 degrees cooler.
Casey: Probably one of my favorite gift shops! Like the grounds themselves, it’s sprawling, airy, and well-lit. If, like me, you can’t stop buying plants every time you see them, you will be delighted by the vast array of succulents, flowering plants (seasonal), seeds, and gardening tools.
Notable Things We Didn’t See
The Cherry Esplanade is pretty tame when the cherry trees aren’t in bloom. We’ll definitely be back for Sakura Matsuri next April.
We learned after our visit that we’d missed the new Water Garden by only a few days. Oh well, next time.
—Casey & Ellen
Location: 990 Washington Avenue (stretches east-west from Flatbush Avenue to Washington Avenue and north-south from Eastern Parkway to Empire Boulevard).
Nearest Subway: Eastern Parkway entrance: 2/3 at Grand Army Plaza or Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum, or B/Q at 7 Avenue; Washington Avenue entrance: 2/3 at Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum or Franklin Avenue, or S at Botanic Garden; Flatbush Avenue entrance: B/Q at Prospect Park.
Estimated Timespan: 2-3 hours
Cost: $12 Adults; $6 Seniors and Students; free Saturday before noon and Tuesday all day.