Narrows Botanical co-founder proposes new garden along Belt Parkway

January 29, 2021 Jaime DeJesus
Narrows Botanical co-founder proposes new garden along Belt Parkway
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The co-founder of the Narrows Botanical Gardens has requested funding to install a native plant garden along the adjoining section of the Belt Parkway.

James Johnson made a presentation at a Community Board 10 meeting Jan. 26 and showed a slide of the strip of green space between the gardens and the Belt – an area about a quarter of a mile long and 20 to 30 feet wide.

“It’s mostly overgrown plants,” he said. “These are not things that we really planted there. They just kind of happened.”

What the strip along the Belt Parkway side of the Narrows Botanical Gardens currently looks like. Photo by James Johnson

Johnson wants to start greening the area along the Belt Parkway. Mugwort, the plant that currently grows along the strip, is a leading cause of hay fever in-season.

“It’s an invasive plant and is displacing native plants,” Johnson said. “It has no aesthetic quality. It’s a high cost in maintenance in mowing it. It’s sucking up money for no reason. It’s as beneficial to us as having cement there. There’s no value for wildlife.”

The proposal includes removing the Mugwort down to the soil and replacing it with native plants that would cut maintenance in half.

“When we get to the point of replacing, we’d put in native grass,” he said. “It would be aesthetically pleasing. We would mix that with meadow flowers. These would be all types of flowers that would be pollinators for our insects.”

He said the meadow flowers would be beautiful to those who drive by and could bring a return of native birds to New York.

CB 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann is in favor of the plan. Johnson sent a letter to the board last year pitching it as a capital priority.

“We supported it at the time,” she said. “We sent it over and the city is in fiscal straits and practically everything on our capital list is not recommended funding.”

Rendering of the proposed garden along the Belt Parkway side of the Narrows Botanical Gardens. Renderings courtesy of James Johnson

Johnson and Beckmann had a follow-up conversation to find grants to make the proposal a reality.

“The goal tonight was to invite the DOT to present an actual formal proposal to both the committee members and DOT and to follow it along to see exactly what steps would need to be taken,” she said.

Leroy Branch, of DOT Commissioner Keith Bray’s office, called the plan as a great idea.

“I think anyone would like to see something different as they drive along the Belt Parkway,” he said. “To be able to do something to help the environment would be great.”

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