New York Botanical Garden
Located in the Bronx borough, the New York Botanical Garden, also known as NYBG, is one of the largest and most renowned botanical gardens, and “living museums” in the world.
History and site
The Botanical Garden was founded in 1891 at the initiative of botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife Elizabeth in partnership with the City of New York “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a botanical garden and museum and arboretum therein, for the collection and culture of plants, flowers, shrubs, the advancement of botanical science and knowledge (…), and for the entertainment, recreation and instruction of the people”.
In order to create the new Garden, the City of NY provided a 250-acre public-owned terrain, part of the Bronx Park; funding was collected through a public campaign and with contributions by affluent New Yorkers including J. Pierpont Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John S. Kennedy, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller, among others.
The design of the Garden was developed by architect Calvert Vaux, who had previously designed Central Park, and by landscape architectural firm Olmsted Brothers.
Along with gardens, groves, arboreta, herbaria, lawns, ponds, trails and roadways, and a forest, the New York Botanical Garden comprises various buildings, including the imposing Enid A. Haupt Conservatory greenhouse (completed in 1902 after a design by Robert W. Gibson and William R. Cobb), the LuEsther T. Mertz Library (a large neo-Renaissance construction, previously known as Museum Building, designed by Robert W. Gibson and opened in 1901), the Pfizer Plant Research Laboratory (designed by Ennead Architects and opened in 2006), and the Leon Levy Visitor Center (completed in 2004 after a design by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates) which accommodates a cafe, a bookstore and plant shop, and a visitor orientation area.
Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, aerial views; photographs © NYBG
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library (formerly known as Museum Building); photograph © NYBG
Library building, west facade; from The Brickbuilder, August 1898
Pfizer Plant Research Laboratory; photo courtesy of Ennead Architects
Leon Levy Visitor Center; photograph © NYBG
New York Botanical Garden, aerial view (ante-1954) with the Conservatory Building (bottom) and the Museum Building (now Library, top); photo: Collection of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
Visit, themed gardens, and living collections
As anticipated, the NYBG comprises a diverse ensemble of indoor and outdoor gardens, plant collections, and botanical living exhibitions; we provide below a brief description of some of the most interesting among them.
The Conservatory Building accommodates living exhibitions of exotic species and habitats, including tropical rain forests, deserts, and aquatic environments.
Conceived by renowned garden designer Lynden B. Miller, the Perennial Garden features four themed exhibitions of plants selected for their color and seasonality.
Housed in the Library’s Britton Rotunda, a permanent exhibition illustrates the Garden’s history, its research projects and the scientific work of its staff.
Created in the 1930s, the 2.5-acre Rock Garden comprises hundreds of species of alpine flora, ponds, and a small waterfall.
Located in the Conservatory, the Orchid Collection is a large living exhibitions of orchids from various tropical areas of the planet.
The Home Gardening Center features an exhibition of living examples, tutorials, and techniques focused on home gardens.
The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden accommodates some 650 types of roses; it is particularly appealing during the flowers’ peak bloom, roughly from May to October.
The Thain Family Forest is a 50-acre forest located in the heart of the Garden and bordered by the Bronx river. The forest, which was there well before the creation of the NY Botanical Garden, comprises a large number of autochthonous trees and native plants and provides a rare occasion to see the original landscape of the New York region.
Adjacent to the Conservatory, the Arthur and Janet Ross Conifer Arboretum is a living collection of conifer trees– pines, spruces, and firs – from North America, Japan, and Alaska.
The Children’s Adventure Garden is an educational garden, experiment space, and playful installation aimed to children and families.
Part of the future Edible Academy, the Family Garden is an educational hands-on experience focused on edible gardening and food.
General map of the New York Botanical Garden, courtesy of NYBG (click for a larger version)
Palm trees inside the Conservatory building; photograph © NYBG
Desert gallery in the Conservatory building; photograph © NYBG
The Thain Family Forest; photograph © NYBG
Special events, art exhibitions, and educational programs
The program of events of the New York Botanical Garden features a wide offer of special exhibitions, focused both on gardening and landscape design, and on contemporary art, including exhibitions of renowned international artists such as Manolo Valdés (2012), Philip Haas (2013), Frida Kahlo (2015), and Dale Chihuly (2017).
Annual events includes The Orchid Show, one of the world’s largest events focused on orchids (usually taking place in late-winter), and The Holiday Train Show, mostly aimed to children.
The NYBG organizes gardening and horticultural classes, landscape design workshops, learning classes for science teachers and educators, family programs and hands-on experiences for children, and lectures.
The NY Botanical Garden complex includes a 550,000-volume reference library open to the public, a restaurant, a cafe, and a shop.
The sculpture “Sol de Citron” by Dale Chihuly installed in front of the Conservatory building for Chihuly’s solo exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden, 2017; photograph © NYBG
Cover image: view of the Conservatory building; photo: George Bremer