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Botanic Garden creates pine barrens, prairie in Brooklyn

June 4, 2013 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is showing its love for native New Yorkers – the leafy, flowering ones.

The Central Brooklyn nonprofit is expanding its Native Flora Garden with a new acre of space meticulously designed to look like an untended bog and meadowland with wild-growing plants – about 15,000 in all, of more than 150 species.

The $2 million expansion, which opens to the public on June 12, was paid for with private donations from BBG’s capital campaign, president Scot Medbury said.

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“Everything has been sourced from the wild,” Native Flora Garden curator Uli Lorimer said Tuesday when giving reporters a sneak peak behind the construction fence enclosing the dramatic new landscaping, which increases the total size of the native garden to three acres.

In the century-old existing garden – which focuses on species from the metro area – trees have grown into a shady forest up to 100 feet high. So BBG officials decided to carve out some wide-open space for sunlight-craving plants.

The new acre, which broke ground 18 months ago, is utterly different from BBG’s manicured lawns, rose trellises and carefully laid-out rows of cherry trees – but thoroughly intriguing.

The purpose of the garden expansion is to give New Yorkers a glimpse of native plant habitats most of them will never see – and to inspire them to use native species in backyards and window boxes and support conservation of native plant habitats, Lorimer said.

It has the only pine barrens habitat on display in a public botanic garden, to evoke the pine barrens of eastern Long Island and southern New Jersey.

A boardwalk leads visitors alongside a pond and bog with acidic, sandy soil. Some of Lorimer’s most prized finds will be planted there. These include delicate orchids called rose pogonias and pixie-moss, a flowering evergreen ground-cover that is a “species of special conservation concern” – one of 28 species in the new acre that are endangered, threatened, imperiled or rare.

Other plantings in the pine barrens include carnivorous plants that trap bugs and absorb nitrogen from them, such as the threadleaf sundew and purple pitcher plant.

There’s also a New York version of a prairie – a meadow that evokes in miniature the Hempstead Plains, which once covered 40,000 acres of Nassau County. At the moment, BBG’s mini-meadow is covered with rye grass. Some flowers will bloom in the meadow this summer – partridge pea, sweet everlasting and blue curls, Lorimer said.

In the middle of the grass, there’s a stone seat called a Council Ring, inspired by Native Americans, where visitors can relax and take it all in.

The new acre, which was conceptualized by high-profile garden designer Darrel Morrison, also includes a “serpentine outcrop” of rocks like those found in Staten Island, which put toxic magnesium into nearby soil. Only very hardy plants like whorled milkweed can grow in that area of the garden.

The expansion acre was once a compost area for BBG – where topsoil from Ebbets Field was deposited after the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957, Medbury said. It was planted with shrubs and trees. A Japanese maple and other non-native species were moved to other parts of BBG to make way for the native plants, except for a century-old, 70-foot English oak that was allowed to stay put.

The native-garden expansion is part of BBG’S $100 million Campaign for the Next Century. The program of upgrades includes soon-to-get-underway construction of a new Water Garden, a water conservation project and a new Discovery Garden designed by Brooklyn Heights landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh.

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