A Brief History of BBG

When Brooklyn Botanic Garden was founded more than a century ago, New York City area was quickly being developed into a cityscape of buildings and paved roads. Creating a public garden was one way to ensure that some green space remained. Today, the Garden has come to represent the very best in urban gardening and horticultural display.

Here are some highlights of the Garden's history, illustrated with photos from the archives.

1897

New York State legislation reserves 39 acres for a botanic garden. Today, the Garden comprises 52 acres.

1910

Garden founded with botanist Charles Stuart Gager as director. The Olmsted Brothers firm laid out the original site plan.

1911

Brooklyn Botanic Garden officially opens on May 13.

Original Native Flora Garden (at the time called the Local Flora Section) laid out. BBG’s first display garden was conceived to showcase and conserve native plants. Its original form was designed by BBG’s first director, Norman Taylor, a research taxonomist, and included wildflower beds arranged systematically by plant family and evolutionary relationship.

1912

Harold Caparn appointed the Garden's landscape architect. Caparn would go on to design much of the grounds over the next three decades.

1914

Children's Garden program begins. One of the first programs of its kind, this one-acre vegetable garden offers a place where city children can grow their own food plants.

1915

Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden completed by landscape designer Takeo Shiota. It was one of the first public Japanese gardens in the United States.

1916

Rock Garden created. Boulders unearthed on-site were arranged to create miniature habitats for alpine plants.

1917

Laboratory Building and Conservatory (now Administrative Building and Palm House) dedicated. The Tuscan Revival–style building was designed by the McKim, Mead & White firm and is now a designated landmark.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Auxiliary formed to help support the Garden.

1921

Lily Pool Terrace dedicated.

Cherry Walk planted.

1925

Bonsai Collection formed through a gift of 32 bonsai from local plantsman Ernest F. Coe.

Shakespeare Garden opens, the gift of Henry C. Folger.

1928

Dedication of Cranford Rose Garden, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walter V. Cranford. Though the garden has been renovated several times since its opening, several of the original plants remain today.

1933

Magnolias planted on Magnolia Plaza, gift of Auxiliary.

1936

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

1938

Original Herb Garden, a gift of the Auxiliary, established near the Washington Avenue entrance. Works Progress Administration workers performed some of the labor.

1939

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

1941

'Kanzan' cherry trees planted to establish Cherry Esplanade, a gift of Auxiliary.

1945

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

1947

First bonsai curator, Frank Okamura, joins staff. Classes and handbooks on bonsai soon followed, signaling this art form's continuing popularity.

1955

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

1974

Volunteer Garden Guide docent program established by Auxiliary.

1977

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

1980

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

1982

First Sakura Matsuri held.

1988

Steinhardt Conservatory completed.

1989

Project Green Reach created. This outreach program serves elementary and middle school classes in Brooklyn's Title I schools.

1990

New York Metropolitan Flora Project, a 20-year survey of the area's plant species, launched.

1993

GreenBridge, BBG's community horticulture and urban greening program, founded.

1995

Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest established.

1996

Original Discovery Garden opens.

Garden website, bbg.org, launched.

2000

Restored Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden reopens.

BBG Florilegium established.

2001

Alice Recknagel Ireys Fragrance Garden dedicated.

2003

Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE) founded in partnership with BBG. This public high school, which emphasizes a project-based science curriculum, is a short walk from the Garden, a source of research opportunities for the students.

2004

Osborne Garden and Magnolia Plaza restored.

Garden Apprentice Program for teens created.

2005

New Eastern Parkway entrance, designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, opens.

Dedication of Judith D. Zuk Magnolia Plaza.

2006

Restoration of Cranford Rose Garden pavilion and irrigation system completed.

2007

Redesign of C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum and Conservatory Gallery completed.

2010

New Herb Garden opens. Now located in the south end of the grounds, the garden features a small orchard, annual beds, cold frames, and a composting area.

BBG celebrates centennial with special events, tours, and exhibits.

2012

Diane H. and Joseph S. Steinberg Visitor Center opens. The LEED Gold–certified design by Weiss/Manfredi includes geothermal heating, rain gardens to absorb run-off, and a living roof planted with native grasses and wildflowers.

2013

Native Flora Garden Expansion, designed by landscape architect Darrel Morrison, opens. The sunny coastal meadow and pine barrens plant communities represented here, along with those of the older, forested part of the garden, represent those that once inhabited the New York City area.

2014

BBG awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

2015

New Discovery Garden opens. This one-acre garden for children, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, features interactive exhibits set in a variety of habitats, including a meadow, marsh, and woodland.

A Discovery Station in the new Discovery Garden. Photo by Lee Patrick.
A great blue heron visiting the Native Flora Garden expansion shortly its opening, in 2013. Photo by Sarah Schmidt.
The Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest in one of its first years. Howard Avenue Block Association president Horace Young (holding watering can) and his family are congratulated by Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden (in dark suit), BBG President Judith Zuk, and Independence Community Bank President and CEO Charles Hamm (in cap).
Garden Apprentice Program participants creating recipes for a contest. Photo by Saara Nafici.
Dr. Gager speaking at the laying of the cornerstone of the Laboratory Building, 1916. Photo by Louis Buhle.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Elizabeth Scholtz greets visitors at the first Sakura Matsuri in 1982. Photo by Estelle Gerard.
The C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum in autumn. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.
Ivory-colored Magnolia 'Elizabeth' bloom inside the Eastern Parkway entrance. Photo by Laimah Osman.
Early-autumn color in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.
Frank Okamura, the Garden's first bonsai curator.
Grading the land for the southern part of the garden with horse team, 1916. Photo by Louis Buhle.
Children's Garden, 1915. Photo by Louis Buhle.
Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, 1916. Photo by Louis Buhle.
Shakespeare Garden 1926. Photo by Louis Buhle.
Cranford Rose Garden, 1927. Photo by Louis Buhle.
The BBG Visitor Center's living roof features a diversity of plantings, including a number of native species. Photo by Blanca Begert.
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