Crown Heights

A walk through Brooklyn Botanic Garden, now closed due to the coronavirus pandemic

The magnolias were magnificent, and one of the famous cherry trees was in full flower.

March 18, 2020 Lore Croghan
I took pictures at Brooklyn Botanic Garden before it closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

Eye on Real Estate: Such serendipity.

It was my sheer good fortune to visit Brooklyn Botanic Garden the very last day before officials decided to close it to help slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

I wanted to do a better job of complying with the urgent need for New Yorkers to practice social distancing, so I made a resolution to walk more and stay out of the subway unless I had absolutely no alternative.

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My reward for resolving to do the right thing and walk, walk, walk was a glorious afternoon at the famous 52-acre horticulture mecca — and the privilege of being among the last people to photograph its early spring flowers before it was closed.

The magnolia trees were magnificent at the venerable garden, which was founded in 1910 and opened in 1911. I’m glad I took tons of photos — because on Monday, the garden’s top brass decided it should be shut down “out of care for BBG staff and community members,” the garden’s website says.

The scene was serene on the last day Brooklyn Botanic Garden was open. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
The scene was serene on the last day Brooklyn Botanic Garden was open. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

They had been keeping the outdoor spaces open — but had already closed the greenhouses because the aisles between the plants are narrow, and people might have wound up standing too close to each other.

“We are deeply saddened that the community will not be able to enjoy the pleasures of early spring here in the coming weeks,” the website’s message says. “We will regroup when this emergency has abated to welcome you back into the full embrace of the garden.”

Brooklyn Botanic Garden draws up to 1 million visitors per year.

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During the coronavirus crisis, the most important thing you can do for other Brooklynites — and yourself — is to stay at home as much as possible and keep a respectful distance from other people. (Of course fiercely thorough hand washing is also crucially important. I hope that’s so ingrained in everyone’s minds by now that I don’t need to mention it. )

Here’s a close-up look at Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s magnolias. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
Here’s a close-up look at Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s magnolias. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

We all need to embrace the social media messages to #StayTheFHome and #stayhomesavelives.

From now on, I am only going to write this column about places I can reach by walking from my apartment. On my strolls, I will practice social distancing, which, as my wise readers know, means staying six feet or two meters away from other people.

Wild rams with wings

So. Let me show you photos of the epic walk I took on Sunday as well as pictures of Brooklyn’s treasured botanic garden. I started on 95th Street in Bay Ridge, part way down the block from where Fourth and Fifth avenues converge. A big red sign at this intersection says “Welcome to Bay Ridge.”

I’m not going to tell you how long my walk to the garden took me. I’m embarrassed to admit that I made a wrong turn, which added a huge amount of time to my trip.

I photographed these cherry blossoms on the last day that Brooklyn Botanic Garden was open. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
I photographed these cherry blossoms on the last day that Brooklyn Botanic Garden was open. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

I pride myself on being an excellent map reader. I made the mistake of not checking my map as I blithely walked on and on and on in the wrong direction.

At the beginning of my stroll, I headed up Fifth Avenue to 84th Street and turned right. This street has a fenced-in pedestrian overpass above the Gowanus Expressway. When you stand in the middle of the overpass and look south, you can see the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.

On the other side of the highway, the quiet streets of Dyker Heights awaited.

 On my walk to Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I passed this home in Dyker Heights. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
On my walk to Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I passed this home in Dyker Heights. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

I passed one of my favorite houses, which can be found on the corner of 84th Street and 11th Avenue. It’s made of stone and looks a bit like a medieval castle. It has statues of tigers on the lawn. Two statues of wild rams with wings flank the front steps.

Last stop on the G train

I turned up 12th Avenue for a serene walk north.

At the corner of 64th Street, I saw a historic red-brick building with the name “Angel Guardian Home” on its front gate. The Sisters of Mercy sold the entire campus on which this former orphanage is located to Barone Management.

As colleague Paula Katinas wrote in the Brooklyn Reporter, the developer is constructing market-rate housing and plans to build an elementary school. Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann hopes the orphanage building will be turned into senior housing.

When I visited Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the greenhouses had already been closed to keep people from standing close to one another. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
When I visited Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the greenhouses had already been closed to keep people from standing close to one another. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

At 62nd Street I turned right and headed to 14th Avenue, which led me through Borough Park. At the intersection of Story Street, 14th Avenue runs into Church Avenue. Before I knew it, I was at the intersection of McDonald Avenue, where the last stop on the G train can be found.

I love this part of Kensington. A few years ago, I wrote about the wonderful Bengali restaurants and food markets clustered around this intersection.

Nearby, the wedge-shaped building at 130 Church Ave., which houses produce shop Carnival Fresh Market, caught my eye. One side of the building is curved to follow the contours of Beverley Road, which runs alongside it.

Fight for Sunlight

I should have kept walking on Church Avenue into Flatbush and turned at Ocean Avenue. (My wrong turn put me on Ocean Parkway. I had to backtrack.)

This pretty posy caught my eye at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
This pretty posy caught my eye at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

On Ocean Avenue, there’s an entrance to Prospect Park, which looked alluring in Sunday afternoon’s sunshine. But I really wanted to see Brooklyn Botanic Garden. So I continued up the sidewalk that runs outside the park. The opposite side of Ocean Avenue was lined with handsome old apartment buildings.

Just when I was feeling the tiniest bit weary — having wasted so much time walking in the wrong direction — I arrived at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue. One of the garden’s entrances is there.

Beside the brick entrance gate, there’s a sign that proclaims, “Fight for Sunlight.”

The sign refers to the garden’s campaign against two 39-story towers that Ian Bruce Eichner’s Continuum Company and development partner Lincoln Equities plan to build at the Spice Factory site at 960 Franklin Ave. Shadows cast by the towers would do lethal harm to thousands of plants in greenhouses and conservatories, garden officials say.

The apricot blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden were so photogenic. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
The apricot blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden were so photogenic. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

The development site is just 150 feet away from the greenhouses. There’s an online petition expressing opposition to the proposed high-rise construction.

Magnificent magnolias

A pathway leading from Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Flatbush Avenue entrance was lined with blooming bushes, including the common camellia and the dawn arrowwood.

Visitors enjoyed a tranquil day before Brooklyn Botanic Garden closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
Visitors enjoyed a tranquil day before Brooklyn Botanic Garden closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

As I walked past the Shelby White and Leon Levy Water Garden, I noticed people were giving each other lots of social-distancing room.

The Magnolia Plaza, which was first planted in 1933, has 72 trees, Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s website says.

The saucer magnolias will bloom later this season with big, pink flowers. The types of trees that were in full flower on Sunday are called star magnolias. The blossoms are white and have long, skinny petals.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s magnolias were magnificent on the day of my visit. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s magnolias were magnificent on the day of my visit. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

There were fat buds on another type of tree, the Yulan magnolia.

A young man sitting at the edge of the plaza with an easel made a painting of the scene. A woman stood close to a blossom-covered branch and drew a sketch in a notebook. Several photographers took pictures of loved ones or snapped selfies.

The lab building is landmarked

For a bird’s eye view of the scene, I walked up the staircase above the front door of the Laboratory Administration Building, which stands beside the Magnolia Plaza.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Laboratory Administration Building is landmarked. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Laboratory Administration Building is landmarked. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

The Tuscan-Revival style building was constructed between 1912 and 1917, and designated as an individual city landmark in 2007. William Kendall of McKim, Mead & White designed the stucco and terra-cotta icon. It’s considered a significant example of the famed architectural firm’s later works.

It’s modeled after small churches in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report says.

A frieze on its facade bears the names of 68 botanists, including Carl Linnaeus and Charles Darwin. (Because Darwin is famous for developing the theory of evolution and natural selection, it’s easy to forget he was a botanist.)

This magnolia tree at Brooklyn Botanic Garden was almost ready to bloom on the day of my visit. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
This magnolia tree at Brooklyn Botanic Garden was almost ready to bloom on the day of my visit. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

McKim, Mead & White also designed Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s next-door neighbor, the Brooklyn Museum.

‘A host, of golden daffodils’

Daffodil Hill, which is another beloved feature of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, can be found right across from Magnolia Plaza.

The sweet yellow posies that populate this slope were beginning to bloom when I was there on Sunday.

Bright flowers bloomed on Daffodil Hill the day before Brooklyn Botanic Garden closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
Bright flowers bloomed on Daffodil Hill the day before Brooklyn Botanic Garden closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

If you like English poetry, the hill will remind you of William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” It describes “a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils” dancing in the breeze.

Nearby, a section of Brooklyn Botanic Garden is called the Shakespeare Garden. An apricot tree at its entrance was covered with delicate blossoms.

The pond in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden glittered in the afternoon sun.

This was one of the first public Japanese gardens to be built in America. It was completed in 1915. There’s a huge, red Torii in the pond — it’s a gate for a Shinto shrine.

The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden looked so picturesque on the day of my visit. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden looked so picturesque on the day of my visit. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

One of the reasons I strolled around the pond’s perimeter was to take a look at an early-blooming cherry tree that grows along the water’s edge.

A dazzling cherry tree

Brooklyn Botanic Garden is best known for its annual Cherry Blossom Festival, Sakura Matsuri, which is held in late April.

It’s a weekend full of cultural entertainment that includes Samurai swordsmanship, pop singers and cosplayers dressed in comic book, manga and movie characters’ costumes.

One tree near the Cherry Esplanade was full of bright blossoms. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
One tree near the Cherry Esplanade was full of bright blossoms. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

A decision about whether to cancel this year’s festival was imminent when I wrote this column.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden has more than 200 flowering cherry trees. They are most dazzlingly displayed on the Cherry Esplanade, a lawn flanked by two double rows of cherry trees. It’s too early in the year for them to bloom.

But near the esplanade, one big, beautiful cherry tree was in full flower on Sunday. The sight of it was a salve that soothed my anxious mind for a moment. I’d have walked twice as far as I did for a look at that tree.

There was lots of space on the Cherry Esplanade for visitors to spread out and soak up the sunshine. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
There was lots of space on the Cherry Esplanade for visitors to spread out and soak up the sunshine. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

Above the Cherry Esplanade, people strolled down the Robert W. Wilson Overlook’s 600-foot-long pathway. The overlook opened in November. The firm that designed it was Weiss/Manfredi.

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Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s weekly column on Brooklyn’s built environment. Whether it’s old as Abraham Lincoln or so new it hasn’t topped out yet, if a building is eye-catching, Eye will show it to you. Click here to read about some of my favorites — for instance, the historic homes in Victorian Flatbush.


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2 Comments

  1. Andrew Porter

    Thanks for this. I’ve been missing going to the BBG—I’m a member—but seeing these photos is the next best thing. I’ve forwarded this to a whole bunch of people.