Friday, April 22, 2011

Weekend Trip: The Brooklyn Botanic Garden

This past weekend I was in New York City both to attend a workshop at Columbia and to visit a close friend from high school who recently relocated to the city. In addition to a number of sumptuous meals as well as frequent coffee, tea, and pastry breaks we managed to make it out to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which I had been wanting to visit for years. To make things even better, our visit was perfectly timed for the cherry blossoms in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and the magnolias in the Magnolia Plaza. We began our visit at the former and I realized that while I have seen a number of Japanese gardens in Europe and the US, I have never visited one while its cherry trees where in bloom. On a historical note, this particular Japanese garden is noteworthy because it was the first one to be laid out in an American public garden.

A gate in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden

View across the pond to another part of the Japanese garden featuring a stone bridge and various trimmed conifers

The pond, framed by the pink and white flowers of various varieties of ornamental cherries (Prunus sp.)

A Japanese torii gate

The outer perimeter of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden

A curtain of pink cherry blossoms

Some white cherry blossoms

From the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden we proceeded to the Shakespeare Garden and the Alice Recknagel Ireys Fragrance Garden, both of which were just waking up from their winter slumber with an array of spring bulbs and the first fresh sprouts of various perennials.

Jonquils (!!!) in the Fragrance Garden

Next up was Judith D. Zuk Magnolia Plaza, a truly stunning collection of magnolias. The star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) and their various hybrids were just past their peak and beginning to drop their petals, while the many hybrids of tulip magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) were just starting to put on a show.

View along one of the main axis of the Magnolia Plaza

View across the center of the Magnolia Plaza towards the Visitor Center

A deep pink tulip magnolia - this is the most saturated color I have ever seen on a magnolia

Immediately adjacent to the Magnolia Plaza is an area of the garden named Daffodil Hill, and luckily that name is to be taken quite literally. The entire slope was awash with various varieties of daffodil (Narcissus sp.).

The Daffodil Hill

By this point we were starting to feel a bit chilly and so we headed to the nearby greenhouse complex for our next stop. We first visited the Steinhardt Conservatory, which contains the C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum and the Robert W. Wilson Aquatic House. The bonsai collection was lovely, particularly as many of the bonsai, in reflection of the season outside, where just leafing out or were flowering.

View into the C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum

A Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) bonsai

A flowering cherry bonsai

Although the bonsai were very nice, however, I was still very surprised when we went on to the Robert W. Wilson Aquatic House, which houses not only tropical water plants but also an amazing collection of orchids. Not only is one wall of the greenhouse dedicated to the display of orchids currently in bloom but virtually the entire ceiling is covered with  mind-boggling number of orchids of the genus Vanda, all curiously hung from wires with their long, fleshy roots dangling in the air quite naked and almost creating a tunnel effect. The flowers of these odd plants are absolutely stunning - huge, intricately patterned, and with a color range that includes not only deep pinks and reds but also rich yellows and even blues rarely seen in orchids. Unfortunately, the fact that they were hanging in such lofty heights meant that it was very difficult to get decent pictures of these amazing plants but I did manage to get a few...

A enormous specimen of an orchid species or variety of the Cattleya or Laelia alliance

The jungle of Vanda roots

A bright blue Vanda coerulea

A yellow-flowered Vanda species

 A stereotypical Cattleya hybrid

A Cattleya and/or Brassia hybrid of some sort

I have no idea what genus this orchid belongs to...

A Paphiopedilum of some sort

The stunning inflorescence of Dendrobium densiflorum

The pale-yellow flowers of what I think is some form of Dendrobium

Lycaste skinneri

 Red and purple Masdevallias

After we finally managed to pry ourselves away from the orchids in the Aquatic House we backtracked through the central entrance hall of the complex and passed underground through the Steinhardt Conservatory Gallery to the Desert Pavilion, the Tropical Pavilion, and the Helen Mattin Warm Temperate Pavilion. The Desert Pavilion contained a pretty and well curated collection of more or less standard arid house fare.

A flowering Aloe in the Desert Pavilion

I am not sure what this is but I thought the delicate yellow flowers were very pretty

A cactus of some sort - unfortunately I do not seem to remember what the tag said

The Tropical Pavilion, in turn, was quite impressive, with lush plantings and myriad flowers, some of which I have not seen very often in conservatories in this part of the world.

A double cultivar of Tabernaemontana divaricata in the Tropical Pavilion

Shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata')

Heliconia psittacorum

Finally, the Warm Temperate Pavilion did not seem quite at its peak, though the plantings were very well maintained. It did, however, have a few unusual and lovely bulbous plants in bloom.

 A species of Watsonia in full bloom in the Warm Temperate Pavilion

After exiting the the Warm Temperate Pavilion we once again braved the chilly weather and explored the rest of the outdoor gardens. While most plantings were just starting to come out of dormancy, we did see some lovely early rhododendrons and many other spring blossoms. It was also kind of nice to see the many different themed gardens and imagine what they will look like a few or months from now. With seasonal plant growth just beginning, their lay-outs and various structures were all the more visible and defined.

 A lovely pale Rhododendron cultivar

 Rhododendron praecox

 View of the Rock Garden

One garden in particular that looked very promising and that I hope to see in its prime one day is the Cranford Rose Garden.

  View of the Rose Garden from the Overlook

We finally exited through the formal, somewhat Italianate Osborne Garden, which will be awash with wisteria and azalea blossoms in the coming month.

  Fountain at one end of Osborne Garden

If you want to know more about the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, you can visit its website here. You can even track the progression of the cherry blossoms throughout the garden! Also, if you live in the New York City area you might be interested in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden plant sale, which will take place May 4-5.


  1. the cherry blossoms are simply beautiful!
    and thank you for naming the shell ginger - i see this plant every morning by the pool i go to swim and have been meaning to look up its name. the flower is so fascinating!


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