A Brief History of BBG

Growing from its humble beginnings as an ash dump in the late 1800s, Brooklyn Botanic Garden has come to represent today the very best in urban gardening and horticultural display.

Below is a chronology of important dates and developments in the Garden's history. It is illustrated with photos from our archives taken by Louis Buhle between 1915 and 1968. These charming black-and-white photos capture the evolution of the Garden and the spirit of the times.


New York State legislation reserves 39 acres for a botanic garden.


Garden is founded; Dr. Charles Stuart Gager is first director.

Men in old fashioned coats and hats listening while Dr. Gager speaks. 1916.
Dr. Gager speaking at the laying of the cornerstone of the Laboratory Building, 1916. Photo by Louis Buhle.


Local flora section (now the Native Flora Garden) is laid out.


Children's Garden program begins.

Women watching over as children harvest first crop in Children's Garden, 1914
Harvesting the first crop of the Children's Garden, 1914. Photo by Louis Buhle.


Japanese Hill–and–Pond Garden is completed by landscape architect Takeo Shiota.

Japanese Hill–and–Pond Garden, 1915
Japanese Garden, 1915. Photo by Louis Buhle.


Rock Garden constructed.

The newly constructed Rock Garden, 1916
Rock Garden, 1916. Photo by Louis Buhle.


Laboratory Building and Conservatory (now Administrative Building and Palm House) are dedicated. Auxiliary formed to support the Garden.


Lily Pool Terrace dedicated. Cherry Walk planted.


Thirty-two bonsai are donated, starting the Garden’s now famous collection. Shakespeare Garden opens, gift of Henry C. Folger.

A woman reading in the Shakespeare Garden, 1926
Shakespeare Garden, 1926. Photo by Louis Buhle.


Dedication of Cranford Rose Garden, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walter V. Cranford.

The Rose Garden still being constructed, 1927
Rose Garden, 1927. Photo by Louis Buhle.


Magnolias planted on Magnolia Plaza, gift of Auxiliary.

People gathered in the middle of Magnolia Plaza, 1933
Magnolia Plaza, 1933. Photo by Louis Buhle.


Rose Arc Pool completed, gift of Mrs. Walter V. Cranford.


Herb Garden, featuring Elizabethan knot garden, established, gift of Auxiliary.


The Osborne Garden opens, gift of Mrs. Sade Elisabeth Osborne.

Steps to the Osborne Garden with the Brooklyn Museum in the background, 1935
Steps leading to the Osborne Garden with the Brooklyn Museum in the background, 1935. Photo by Louis Buhle.


'Kanzan' cherry trees planted on the Esplanade, gift of Auxiliary.


First title in BBG's gardening book series, Lilies and Their Culture; Use in the Garden, is published.


Fragrance Garden, designed by landscape architect Alice R. Ireys, opens.

Workers digging up what has become the Fragrance Garden in the spring of 1955
Work begins on the Fragrance Garden in the spring of 1955.


Plant patent received for 'Red Jade' weeping crabapple, developed at BBG.


Volunteer Garden Guide program established by Auxiliary.

Men, women and children looking at plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden annual plant sale, 1974
Brooklyn Botanic Garden annual plant sale, 1974.


Plant patent received for Magnolia × 'Elizabeth', the first yellow magnolia, developed at BBG.

<i>Magnolia</i> × 'Elizabeth' in bloom, 2007
Magnolia × 'Elizabeth', 2007. Photo courtesy of wallyg.


500-year-old Shogun lantern, gift of the city of Tokyo, placed in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.

Shogun stone lantern in front of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.
Plaque next to the stone lantern reads: "This Japanese lantern was presented to the city of New York by Mr. Bunj Sakuma a controller of Taito Ward Tokyo, in October 1980, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the New York-Tokyo sister city affiliation. In 1652, feudal lord Naito Bunzen-no Kami Nobuteru dedicated this 10 foot high, 3 ton, komatsu stone lantern to the Tokugawa shogunate." Photo by Alison Dorfman.


Steinhardt Conservatory, a $25 million capital project, completed.


Education Building completed. Palm House renovated as special events center. Project Green Reach created.

The Palm House ready for an event at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Palm House at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.


New York Metropolitan Flora Project launched.


Rock Garden restored. Science Center opens at 109 Montgomery Street. Garden presents first Better Earth Award, recognizing environmental commitment.


GreenBridge founded. Lily Pool Terrace renovated.

The Lily Pool Terrace at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Lily Pool Terrace. Photo by Niall Dunne.


New mixed perennial border added to Lily Pool Terrace. Administration Building renovation completed.


Dedication of refurbished Fragrance Garden. Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest established.


Discovery Garden opens. Garden website, bbg.org, launched.

A path through the Discovery Garden
Discovery Garden. Photo by Dave Allen.


Gardener’s Resource Center opens.


Frances M. Miner Children's Garden House renovated


Restored Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden reopens. The Center for Urban Restoration Ecology (CURE) founded with Rutgers University. BBG Florilegium is established. Master Site Plan approved by the Board of Trustees.

The restored Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden at BBG.
Restored Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. Photo by Romi Ige.


Alice Recknagel Ireys Fragrance Garden is dedicated.


BBG becomes U.S. office of Botanic Garden Conservation International (BGCI). Planting and dedication of Liberty Oaks.


Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE) founded.


Osborne Garden and Magnolia Plaza restored. Garden Apprentice Program created.

Magnolia Plaza in front of the Administration Building.
Magnolia Plaza. Photo by Medi Blum.


New Eastern Parkway entrance opened, designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, LLP. Dedication of Judith D. Zuk Magnolia Plaza.

The new Eastern Parkway entrance to the Garden.
New Eastern Parkway entrance


Restoration of Cranford Rose Garden pavilion and irrigation system completed. Planning for the Centennial Campaign begins.


Redesign of C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum and Steinhardt Conservatory Gallery. Design of new Visitor Center and entrance completed.

The inside of C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum, with Bonsais on display.
C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum. Photo by Patrick Cullina.


BBG celebrates its centennial. Ground broken for new Visitor Center. Herb Garden redesigned and expanded.


New Visitor Center and Garden Shop open, designed by Weiss/Manfredi.


Native Flora Garden Expansion opens.


Children's Garden program celebrates its centennial. BBG is awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

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