Thursday, April 7, 2016


There is a small gate at the corner of Flatbush and Ocean Avenues, and when you pass through it, you enter a paradise of peace and beauty.  The trash and asphalt of the street are no longer visible.  The constant din of the City may continue, but somehow you don’t hear it.  The moldy, diesel smell of the streets is replaced with the smell of green – 1000s of trees, shrubs, and plants providing oxygen, most of them labeled with their names and genus.  This is Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a 52-acre sanctuary in the heart of the borough.  The Garden was created in 1910, the very same year that the house where I lived was built.

It’s flanked on the north by the main Brooklyn Library and the Brooklyn Museum.  Ebbets Field baseball stadium – now replaced by a huge, nondescript, high-rise apartment building – used to be two blocks away to the east.  To the west, right across the street, is Prospect Park a world away.  The Botanic Garden is fenced, iron fenced, and so there’s no itinerants walking through to get somewhere else.  No cars driving through, taking a shortcut to somewhere else.  No speed bikers yelling at you to get out of their way.  When you’re in the Garden, you’re there in nature for nature.

And to the south about a quarter of a mile, another landmark, is the house where I lived.

In the spring, the 100-foot avenue of cherry trees is in bloom.  Brides get married here.  Some others probably get engaged.  And there is a cherry-blossom festival – Sakura Matsuri – that celebrates Japanese culture and gardening with performances and other programs.  Festival days, you will find people in kimonos walking among the cherry trees.  You could be in Japan.

But cherry trees aren’t the only trees that are blooming there in spring.  There are apricot and peach trees, apple and nectarine trees, and magnolias.  It’s really nice.

Photo by Jeffrey O. Gustafson
There’s a Bonsai Museum at the Botanic Garden with over 350 bonsai trees.  Imagine seeing a lilac tree or wisteria blooming in miniature.  Or a fully-grown redwood tree a few inches tall.  I found it so surprising, I tried imagining bonsai people leaning against the trunk.

Photo by BerndH
There’s more – the Aquatic House and Orchid Collection has pools that hold ferns and mosses and orchids.  There are over 2,000 orchids at the Garden.  All equally beautiful.  My landlord grew orchids in the house – about 8 of them, I think – and I tried to learn the technique (purchasing plants from Trader Joe’s).  I just couldn’t get the hang of repotting and when to water, and so I failed.  I suppose it’s similar to baking bread – there’s a certain patience required and something clicks one day and you can do it. Altho I have learned to bake all types of bread, I haven't mastered the art of growing orchids.  And anyway,  bread dough doesn’t die right in front of your eyes.

Photo by Bettycrocker
The most serene part of the Garden for me is Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.  There’s a large pond with enormous koi swimming in it.  The pond is surrounded by a pathway that is shaded by trees and there’s a shady gazebo for sitting, or leaning, to watch the fish glide by.

There are a lot of festivals and lectures and learning opportunities at the Garden.  One of them is a tour of the Shakespeare Herb Garden which holds every type of plant mentioned in a Shakespeare play or sonnet – including the poisonous ones. 

And then there’s the music.  The Garden includes music in many of their programs.  One winter, I attended a performance by a soft-rock/jazz band.  There was a man sitting near the band who was drawing on a computer.  When the band announced their last song, this man projected his drawings on the wall, sped up the slide-show, and it appeared that the people in the drawings were dancing along to the music.  It was very impressive.

Okay, so the main entrance to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is actually up near the Brooklyn Museum, so there’s two ways to get inside.  But get there.  It’s fabulous.  And open year round.  Tuesdays and Saturday mornings are FREE.  

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