It’s a crying shame that it takes less than 20 minutes to drive from my stoop in Throgs Neck to the main entrance of The New York Botanical Gardens. It’s a shame because I’ve lived here all my life and aside from the perfunctory school trip in elementary school, I was gone from the Gardens for nearly thirty years. I wish I could explain that I just took it for granted. But I disregarded the Gardens for a far worse reason. I bought into the myth that the Bronx is a soulless concrete jungle with no cultural, academic or artistically redeeming characteristics. It lead me to a senseless, unfounded notion to discount anything beautiful or worthwhile should ever reside in my own hometown. Well, I recently regained some Bronx pride when the Gardens slowly and patiently waited for my return, to snap me out of my philistine coma and thoroughly enchant me with the most beautiful display of greenery, plant and tree life.
Smack in the middle of the Boogie Down, The New York Botanical Garden is a 250-acre lot of land founded in 1891. Now a national historic landmark, the Garden is a living plant museum dedicated to the education, preservation and promotion of botany, horticulture and horticultural research. There’s a 50-acre natural forest and numerous curated gardens displaying varieties of flowers, plants and trees. Normally, the expansive grounds are alone worth the price of admission, but The Gardens also offer different exhibits with varying themes. NYBG hosted The Orchid Show earlier this year and just recently exhibited Emily Dickinson’s Garden – The Poetry of Flowers (April 30 – June 13, 2010). Strolling along different garden paths, giant posters of Dickinson’s famous works inspired by her gardening lay beside beds of lilies, tulips, lilacs and more.
The Enid Haupt Conservatory is a Victorian-era glasshouse constructed in 1902. Just recently NYBG.org launched an online flash-based tour of the Conservatory. Using attractive cutting edge digital illustration, the end user can navigate through a virtual walking tour and click for more information on the various plants they encounter. It’s a fantastic online educational tool, especially for those who live too far to visit, but nothing beats the real deal. Walking through the massive and majestic wings of this greenhouse, you can witness the more exotic plant life that thrive in various climates of the world (deserts and rain forests, etc.).
Aside from the permanent and rotating exhibition of plants and flowers, NYBG is also an educational and scientific research facility. The Mertz Library is probably the most important botanical library in the world containing vast publications and manuscripts on plant research. It’s an architecturally grand building nestled a little farther back from the Garden entrance.
When you walk the grounds, it’s best to get hold of a map and pick and choose where you’d like to go. There are spots like the Ross Conifer Arboretum, the Steere Herbarium, the Cherry Collection, or the Perennial Garden – all scattered throughout the Garden’s expansive complex. Since there’s no way you can enjoy all the various attractions in one visit, it’s best to take advantage of the guided tram tours that take you all around the Garden, making stops at various points of interest like the Rock Garden or the untouched native forest of the Bronx. The Gift Shop, Visitor Center and Cafe greet you not far from the main entrance. As cafe and gift shops go, there’s nothing really of note, including the typically expensive food, snacks and merchandise. More importantly, the architecture of all three venues do not clash with the manicured landscape of the grounds, appearing unobtrusive and complementing. The NYBG shop is beautifully and neatly laid out, and during the warm months you can purchase a variety of budding plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables, in addition to books, gardening tools and various bric a brac souvenirs.
The New York Botanical Garden offers an embarrassment of riches for people of all ages to enjoy. With the newly constructed outdoor Clay Family Picnic Pavilion – not to mention the Home Gardening Center and the Children’s Adventure Garden – just to name a few more educational attractions – NYBG offers something that the hard core nature/plant lover or just the casual day tripper can enjoy.
New York Botanical Garden launches Plant Hunters – The Bronx Times Reporter, May 27, 2010 edition