After working all week in Manhattan, spending time in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden feels like a hiatus. Flush with ponds, trees, and plants, it’s hard to picture the garden’s resplendent 52 acres as a onetime wasteland. Four busy roads surround the perimeter, but you wouldn’t know it as the green interior is so peaceful. Whether it’s a case of thoughtful design or of a garden’s inherent nature, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s the combination.
Hailing from landscape designer royalty, Brothers Frederick Jr. and John Charles Olmsted (sons of Central Park and Prospect Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted) drafted plans for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, whose ultimate execution opened to the public in 1911. From 1912 until 1945, together with landscape architect, Harold Caparn, the site further developed into the artistic and educational facility it is today.
In spring and summer, the Garden is practically made for dozing — voluminous oaks, elms, and ginkoes provide copious amounts of shade. This is also when the pink cherry blossom trees are in bloom and the rose gardens spread their heady scent.
In the cooler months, the garden exhibits a different kind of beauty.
The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, designed by Takeo Shiota in 1915, feels serene in spite of the giant attention-seeking Koi fish that wade around the pond, occasionally breaking the water’s surface with mouths agape, as if to say, “Feed me.”
The Shakespeare Garden exhibits more than 80 plants mentioned in the playwright/poet’s works.
The nearby Celebrity Walk, inaugurated in 1985, celebrates those “who where born or flourished in Brooklyn, and whose talents and significant achievements enhance the Borough’s reputation throughout the world.” Paved to look like a checkerboard, the walkway features ‘leaf dedications’ that honour Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Marisa Tomei, Arthur Miller, Mel Brooks, among others. I found it the perfect excuse to warm up with hopscotch.
Further on, Patrick Dougherty’s, ‘Natural History’ – an installation of woody sculptures that look like mammoths – has drawn visitors ever since the Gardens’ 100th anniversary in August 2010. Its whimsy beautifully complements the garden’s winter blueprint. While I was exploring, the animator-director Tim Burton came to mind.
This winter, the garden’s biggest highlight is displayed in the Steinhardt Conservatory…
…where a 300-pound Tiger Orchid is showing off its blooms for the third time in 13 years. The beauty is not only in the orchid’s grandeur, but in its blooming sprays. “The tiger bloom is a reluctant bloomer even in its habitat (Southeast Asia)- only once every two to four years – and flowering in cultivation. Outside the tropics, is a special event,” says the nameplate.
A favourite spot of mine is the Conservatory’s C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum, for the calm induced by its elegantly crafted miniature trees.
“When I design each individual tree, I try to communicate the spirit of that tree and, hopefully, evoke the imagery of a special, natural environment,” ~curator Julian Velasco
Bonsai: Juniperus Chinensis var. Sargentii
A fun-see must-see: Now through February 26, 2012, the Terrarium features exquisite plant art under glass curated by Jennifer Williams. Surrounding it are hanging art works by Jae Hi Ahn that ‘re-imagine nature’. The exhibit, on show in the lower level of the Conservatory, proves size does not matter.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden attracts up to 900,000 visitors every year. Between the months of November and March, the Garden provides free admission during Winter Weekdays (until March 11, 2012). Go see the Tiger Orchid at the Aquatic House — it is 300 pounds worth of gold! See www.bbg.org