Prospect Heights

Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a new selfie spot (and some new plants too)

November 8, 2019 Lore Croghan
Guests at the opening ceremony for Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Robert W. Wilson Overlook check out the view of the Cherry Esplanade. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Brooklyn just got a new selfie hot spot.

When Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Cherry Esplanade is bursting with springtime blossoms, the hilltop directly above it will surely become a popular place to snap smiling self portraits.

After the Cherry Blossom Festival is over and the famous flowers are gone, 34 newly planted crape myrtle trees on the previously undeveloped hill will bloom. Their white, pale pink and lavender flowers will likely wind up in countless summer and fall photographs.

The Robert W. Wilson Overlook, as the hilltop is called, has just been landscaped with more than 40,000 new plants. It now has sculptural retaining walls and a gently inclined 600-foot-long pathway with switchbacks that’s accessible to visitors with limited mobility.

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The Robert W. Wilson Overlook has a fully accessible walkway. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
The Robert W. Wilson Overlook has a fully accessible walkway. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

One switchback has a seating area for visitors who want to gaze down on the Cranford Rose Garden. Another has a view of the Cherry Walk, which runs alongside the Cherry Esplanade.

The overlook opened to the public on Wednesday with a ceremonial garland cutting (instead of a ribbon cutting).

The hillside landscape is named in honor of the late Robert W. Wilson, a retired hedge fund founder turned philanthropist.

He donated hundreds of millions of dollars to nonprofits to support environmental protection, the arts, social causes and education.


The overlook's pathway brings visitors from the upper portion of Brooklyn Botanic Garden down to the Cherry Esplanade. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
The overlook’s pathway brings visitors from the upper portion of Brooklyn Botanic Garden down to the Cherry Esplanade. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Wilson was a key donor to the 1980s BBG Conservatory Campaign and the Campaign for the Next Century, which launched in 2007.

Before the hillside was landscaped, it was “an orphan site” and a barrier between the upper and lower parts of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, said Michael Manfredi, co-founder of design firm Weiss/Manfredi, which designed the 1.25-acre landscape.

Because BBG is an urban garden, it was important to include “social settings” in the landscaping, such as pathways wide enough for several people to walk side by side, Manfredi said.

Weiss/Manfredi also designed the award-winning Diane H. and Joseph S. Steinberg Visitor Center, which stands next to the Robert W. Wilson Overlook.

Architects Michael Manfredi, left, and Marion Weiss of Weiss/Manfredi designed the Robert W. Wilson Overlook. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Architects Michael Manfredi, left, and Marion Weiss of Weiss/Manfredi designed the Robert W. Wilson Overlook. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

There’s a meadow growing on the roof of the visitor center and a meadow in the Native Flora Garden Extension, which is on the opposite side of the overlook. So when Toby Wolf of Wolf Landscape Architecture selected plants for the overlook, he tried to create a meadow that complements the two on either side of it, he told the Brooklyn Eagle.

The overlook project’s planting designer variegated the plants on the overlook rather than clustering them in big blocks. The hill faces south, so Wolf included coastal plants and native plants of the South and the Southwest, which can handle lots of sunlight.

The overlook plantings will start flowering next year.

A switchback on the Robert W. Wilson Overlook’s pathway has an excellent view of the Cranford Rose Garden. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
A switchback on the Robert W. Wilson Overlook’s pathway has an excellent view of the Cranford Rose Garden. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

In addition to the blossoming crape myrtle trees, a small yellow daisy-like flower called golden groundsel will bloom in the spring, he said. Small white flowers will blossom on wild strawberry plants in late spring. Bee balm will flower in the summer.

And the Tennessee coneflower, which was formerly on the federal endangered species list, will bloom in summer and fall. This flower’s colors range from pink to purple.

With the opening of the Robert W. Wilson Overlook, BBG approaches the finish line on a decade of intense work on-site improvement projects.

The final project is the construction of the Elizabeth Scholtz Woodland Garden. It’s expected to wrap up this month — ahead of the planned departure early next year of Scot Medbury from his job as BBG President.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Scot Medbury (at left) says the late Robert W. Wilson (whose photo is on an easel at right) was a BBG supporter for a half-century. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Scot Medbury (at left) says the late Robert W. Wilson (whose photo is on an easel at right) was a BBG supporter for a half-century. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

He will become the executive director of Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Sonoma County, California.

The 52-acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which opened in 1910, attracts between 825,000 and 1 million visitors per year.

The garden is currently staging an exhibition called “Fight for Sunlight” to rally public opposition to proposed rezoning for high-rise development at the Spice Factory site at 960 Franklin Ave. Tall towers there would cast shadows that would kill plants in greenhouses and conservatories, BBG’s staffers say.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.


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  1. Andrew Porter

    To say the Overlook was a “previously undeveloped hill” is not true. This hill, which is actually the dirt deposited from the excavation of the Brooklyn Museum’s foundation next door, had many trees, a seating area overlooking the Rose and Japanese Gardens, and a hillside full of roses, which were often the first to flower in the spring.

    What it also had were numerous steps, anathema to standards for accessibility established by the ADA law. So it apparently had to go.

    Also gone are the wonderful granite steps leading down from the Osborne Garden onto the intersection of the Overlook and the pathway dividing the Rose Garden from the Native Flora Garden. Here’s my photo of these steps:
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c8c3154e947fbf227d85e0273ed97702ab9316a4146f4d7b8d9b4c639d3cf677.jpg