Originally, a collection of living plants designed to illustrate relationships within plant groups. Most modern botanical gardens are concerned primarily with exhibiting ornamental plants in a scheme that emphasizes natural relationships. A display garden of mostly woody plants (shrubs and trees) is often called an arboretum. The botanical garden as an institution can be traced to ancient China and many Mediterranean countries, where such gardens were often centers for raising plants used for food and medicines. Botanical gardens are also reservoirs of valuable heritable characteristics, potentially important in the breeding of new varieties of plants. Still another function is the training of gardeners. The world's most famous botanical garden is Kew Gardens.
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Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) is a world-renowned botanic garden in Brooklyn, New York, USA, located near the neighborhoods Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and Park Slope. About 25 minutes from midtown Manhattan by subway, the 52 acre garden includes a number of specialty "gardens within the Garden," plant collections, and the Steinhardt Conservatory, which houses the C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum, three climate-themed plant pavilions, a white cast-iron and glass aquatic house, and an art gallery. Founded in 1910, the Garden holds over 10,000 taxa of plants and each year welcomes over 700,000 visitors from around the world.
Some of the specialty gardens and collections at BBG include:
The Garden has more than two hundred cherry trees of forty-two Asian species and cultivated varieties, making it one of the foremost cherry-viewing sites outside of Japan. The first cherries were planted at the garden after World War I, a gift from the Japanese government. Each spring at BBG, when the trees are in bloom, a month-long cherry blossom viewing festival called Hanami is held, culminating in a weekend celebration called Sakura Matsuri. Cherry trees are found on the Cherry Esplanade and Cherry Walk, in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, and in many other locations in the Garden. Depending on weather conditions, the Asian flowering cherries bloom from late March or early April to mid-May. The many different species bloom at slightly different times, and the sequence is tracked online at Cherry Watch, on the BBG website.
BBG's Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden was the first Japanese garden to be created in an American public garden. It was constructed in 1914 and 1915 at a cost of $13,000, a gift of early BBG benefactor and trustee Alfred T. White, and it first opened to the public in June 1915. It is considered to be the masterpiece of its creator, Japanese landscape designer Takeo Shiota (1881-1943). Shiota was born in a small Japanese village about from Tokyo, and in his youth spent years traversing Japan on foot to explore its natural landscape. He emigrated to the United States in 1907.
The garden is a blend of the ancient hill-and-pond style and the more modern stroll-garden style, in which various landscape features are gradually revealed along winding paths. Its three acres contain hills, a waterfall, a pond, and an island, all artificially constructed. Carefully placed rocks also play leading roles. Among the architectural elements of the garden are wooden bridges, stone lanterns, a viewing pavilion, a torii or gateway, and a Shinto shrine. A restoration of the garden in 2000 was recognized with the New York Landmark Conservancy's 2001 Preservation Award.
In 1927, Walter V. Cranford, a construction engineer whose firm built many of Brooklyn's subway tunnels, donated $15,000 to BBG for a rose garden. Excavation revealed an old cobblestone road two feet below the surface and tons of glacial rock, which had to be carted away on horse-drawn barges.
The Cranford Rose Garden opened in June 1928. It was designed by Harold Caparn, a landscape architect, and Montague Free, the Garden's horticulturist. Many of the original plants are still in the garden today. There are over 5,000 bushes of nearly 1,400 kinds of roses, including wild species, old garden roses, hybrid tea roses, grandifloras, floribundas, polyanthas, hybrid perpetuals, climbers, ramblers, and miniature roses.
A special donation from Henry C. Folger, founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., paved the way for the construction of BBG's original Shakespeare Garden in 1925. Since moved to a different location in the Garden, this English cottage garden exhibits more than 80 plants mentioned in William Shakespeare's plays and poems. Plant labels give the plants' common or Shakespearean names, their botanical names, relevant quotations, and, in some cases, a graphic representation of the plant.
Next to the Shakespeare Garden is the Fragrance Garden, complete with braille information signs for visitors with sight disabilities. Created in 1955 by Alice Recknagel Ireys, a renowned landscape architect, this was the first garden in the country designed for the sight-impaired. All visitors are encouraged to rub the fragrant or pleasingly textured leaves of the plants between their fingers. There are four sections in the garden, each with a theme: (1) plants to touch, (2) plants with scented leaves, (3) plants with fragrant flowers, and (4) kitchen herbs. The garden is wheelchair-accessible, and all planting beds are at an appropriate height for people in wheelchairs. A fountain provides a calming sound and a place to wash one's hands after touching the various plants.
The BBG Children's Garden is the oldest continually operating children's garden within a botanic garden in the world. It was opened in 1914 under the direction of BBG educator Ellen Eddy Shaw and operates as a community garden for children, with hundreds of children registering each year for plots on the one-acre site. The BBG Children's Garden has served as a model for similar gardens around the world.
Other specialty gardens at BBG include: the Discovery Garden, designed for young children; the Herb Garden; the Lily Pool Terrace, which includes two large display pools and annual and perennial borders; the Native Flora garden, the first of its kind in North America; the Osborne Garden, a three-acre, Italian-style garden, and the Rock Garden, built around 18 boulders left behind by the glacier during the Ice Age. A Celebrity Path honors famous Brooklynites past and present, such as Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, and Walt Whitman, with a trail of engraved paving stones.
The Plant Family Collection, which takes about a third of BBG's total area, includes plants and trees arranged by family to show their evolutionary progression from most primitive to most recently evolved. Although recent studies of plant genetics have changed classification of individual plants, the groupings are still an excellent introduction to the many different plant families and their constituent species.
The Steinhardt Conservatory houses BBG's extensive indoor plant collection in three climate-controlled pavilions for tropical, warm temperate, and desert floras. Also located here are the C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum, one of the oldest collections of dwarfed, potted trees in the country; an art gallery for changing art exhibitions; the Robert W. Wilson Aquatic House, with its collections of tropical water plants, insect-eating plants, and orchids; and the Stephen K-M. Tim Trail of Evolution, which traces the history of plant evolution and the effects of climate change over 3-1/2 billion years.
Less apparent to the casual visitor are BBG's diverse programs in scientific research, youth education, and community horticulture.
Scientists at Brooklyn Botanic Garden are undertaking the most comprehensive study ever of the plants of metropolitan New York, called the New York Metropolitan Flora project, or NYMF. The purpose of NYMF is to inventory and describe all vascular plants growing in the region. It is the first flora of the New York metro region undertaken in almost 100 years.
The BBG Herbarium houses about 300,000 specimens of preserved plants, particularly plants from the New York metropolitan area. These specimens, some from as early as 1818, create a unique historical record and aid BBG scientists in tracking species, analyzing the spread of invasive plants, and modeling changes in the metro region's vegetation. There are also important holdings from the western United States, the Galapagos Islands, Bolivia, and Mauritius.
BBG scientists are conducting research on the evolution and classification of plants, a field called plant systematics, and on the taxonomy of cultivated plants, particularly begonias. BBG's five Ph.D. scientists are recognized experts in several plant families, including Begoniaceae, Celastraceae, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae, and Scrophulariaceae.
The Center for Urban Restoration Ecology (CURE) is a collaboration between BBG and Rutgers University. CURE seeks to understand patterns of urban biodiversity and to use this information to create protocols for successful restoration of degraded urban environments.
The Garden's Education department runs a full range of adult and children's classes and events, and also educates thousands of school and camp groups throughout the year.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a founding partner of the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE), a small public high school dedicated to science, environmental studies, and urban ecology that was launched in 2003. The school is operated by a partnership between BBG, Prospect Park Alliance, and the New York City Department of Education. BASE graduated its first class in 2007.
BBG's Garden Apprentice Program (GAP) provides internships for students in grades 8 through 12 in gardening, science education, and environmental issues. The program offers students training and volunteer placements with increasing levels of responsibility for up to four years.
Project Green Reach is a science-focused school outreach program which annually reaches nearly 2,500 students and teachers in public and nonpublic schools in underserved neighborhoods.
GreenBridge, the community horticulture program of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, shares BBG's knowledge and resources with Brooklyn neighborhoods by offering residential and commercial gardening programs to block associations, community gardens, community centers, and other groups.
The annual Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest encourages neighborhood beautification by offering classes in planting window boxes, planters, and tree pits and recognizing outstanding efforts.
The Urban Composting Project, supported by the New York City Department of Sanitation, offers composting assistance and resources to community gardens and institutions and information on composting in residential backyards to individuals.
BBG has been producing authoritative publications since 1945, when it launched America's first series of popular gardening handbooks. Today, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guides continue to provide home gardeners with practical, state-of-the-art information on subjects such as garden design, great plants, and gardening techniques. A recent title, Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, uses BBG's extensive knowledge of invasive plants to educate gardeners about both the problem of invasive species and garden-worthy native plant alternatives.
BBG's award-winning website, bbg.org, showcases the Garden and its programs and offers information for the home gardener in popular features such as Garden Botany and Environmental Gardening. New features are added every week, including seasonal interactive guides such as ID Your Holiday Tree and Cherry Watch, and online resources like the Metropolitan Plant Encyclopedia. BBG's collection of historic photographs and lantern slides was recently made available online. The website was one of the first anywhere to be fully compliant with federal laws requiring information technology to be equally accessible to the disabled.
BBG has two gift shops, a Visitor Center, and a Gardener's Resource Center, which provides reference services to home gardeners, staff, and the professional horticultural community. The Visitor Center and Gardener's Resource Center are both located in the landmark McKim, Mead and White Administration Building. During the spring and summer, an outdoor cafe provides a variety of refreshments and meals. The Palm House, a Beaux Arts-style conservatory, is a popular wedding and events venue offering catering for up to 300 guests. Group tours are also available.
BBG has about 165 full-time and 90 part-time employees along with 600 volunteers. Its annual operating budget is $16.2 million.
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