Celebrating 125 years of the New York Botanical Garden

This year, the 250-acre, Bronx-based botanical garden, which sees close to one million visitors pass through its grounds each year, celebrates its 125th anniversary.
The Enid A Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanic Garden. Courtesy New York Botanic Garden
The Enid A Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanic Garden. Courtesy New York Botanic Garden

In 1888, Nathaniel Lord ­Britton, a lecturer of botany at Columbia University, and his wife Elizabeth – herself a bryologist (moss specialist) – visited the Royal ­Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, while on honeymoon. The experience so inspired the couple that, once they returned home, they launched a public campaign, determined that New York should have a garden of equal standing. The Brittons were successful, and in 1891, The New York ­Botanical Garden was established on the Lorillard Estate – previously owned by tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard, and a portion of which was formerly the St John’s College (now Fordham University). 

This year, the 250-acre, Bronx-based botanical garden, which sees close to one million visitors pass through its grounds each year, celebrates its 125th anniversary. The occasion is being marked with a year-long calendar of events, exhibitions and ­performances. 

The garden is currently home to almost one million living plants, housed within 50 different gardens and plant collections, many of which are seasonal. During the summer months alone, there are 20 gardens to visit, including a conifer arboretum, rose garden and orchid collection. Beyond the gardens is a 550,000-volume library and a herbarium that’s home to more than seven million botanical specimens, dating back more than three centuries. There’s also NYBG’s most iconic building: a vintage, wrought-iron greenhouse that was inspired by ­London’s 1851 Crystal ­Palace exhibition. Meanwhile, the conservatory, first built in 1902 and renamed the Enid A Haupt ­Conservatory in 1978, is home to A World of Plants. The showcase includes species that flourish in different climates around the world. Several seasonal exhibitions are also held within the confines of the greenhouse. 

Although the garden acts as a major tourism attraction, it also works closely with the wider environment and surrounding community. As part of a three-fold mission, NYBG conducts basic and applied research on plants from around the globe, and is currently responsible for one of the world’s largest plant research and conservation programmes, working to protect and preserve plants within their natural habitat. At present there are about 200 staff members, including 80 PhD scientists, working in NYBG’s molecular labs and in the field, across 49 different countries. 

The garden also acts as a venue for teaching the public about plant biology, horticulture and the wider natural world. Hands-on, curriculum-based programming is available, and draws more than 300,000 people annually, many of whom hail from within the Bronx community. These initiatives focus on plant science, ecology and healthy eating.

NYBG has dedicated two gardens – the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden and the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden – specifically dedicated to children and teenagers. From planting vegetables and fruit to adventure camps, these two spaces offer inner-city children the opportunity to directly interact with nature. 

Adult classes are also available, and range from botanical art, illustration and landscape design to horticulture, floral design, botany and gardening. Even teachers from the New York City public-school system are offered professional development programmes that train them to teach science courses at all grade levels. 

Beyond the confines of its own property, the NYBG is part of a continuing initiative known as the Bronx Green-Up. The community gardening outreach programme, first launched in 1988, provides horticulture education, training and technical assistance to Bronx residents, community gardeners, urban farmers and local schools and community organisations. Free horticulture-certificate programmes and workshops are offered by NYBG throughout the year, while a number of annual events, aimed at bringing communities together, are also held. One imagines that the Brittons would be pleased.

Anniversary events

Celebrating The New York Botanical Garden: 125 Years

A new photo exhibition by Larry Lederman, who has observed and photographed the grounds for more than 13 years, depicts various areas of the New York Botanical Garden.

Until July 31

Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas

Enjoy a display of more than 20 paintings and sculptures from the American Impressionism movement. These pieces of art capture the colours, shadows and light observed in nature by the artists.

Until September 11

125th Anniversary Science and Conservation Symposium

Sit in on a discussion that focuses on the challenges of saving the plants of the world, the role NYBG will continue to play and how everyone can do their part to help. 

September 23


Explore the chrysanthemums, or kiku in Japanese, in the Enid A Haupt Conservatory. These autumn-flowering plants have been “trained” in accordance with ancient techniques from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The plants will be displayed in various ways, some with blossoms that grow in densely flowered pyramids, columns and bridges. 

October 8 to 30

Dedication of the Michael and Judy Steinhardt Maple Collection

Visit the Steinhardt Maple Collection, a recent addition to the garden’s existing maple-tree selection. The new collection also includes a variety of plants, such as Japanese tree peonies and flowering perennials.

October 15 to 16


Published: June 26, 2016 04:00 AM


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