Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Herb Garden explores the origins, botany, and beauty of the plants we know as food. Reflecting the diverse cultures and culinary traditions of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods, the Herb Garden serves as a vibrant living classroom where the community can learn practical urban food gardening techniques and tips for making sustainable food choices. The garden is designed to be a decorative but utilitarian potager, or kitchen garden, that freely mixes medicinal and culinary herbs, vegetables, berries, fruit trees, and flowers.
BBG's new Herb Garden opened in June 2010, comprising a small orchard, perennial plants, and annual beds as well as a composting area, cold frame, toolshed, overlook pavilion, and trellis systems. Interpretative signage highlights the origins and uses of particular food plants, and the garden curator posts updates and gardening tips for visitors.
Part of a suite of centennial projects, the redesigned and expanded Herb Garden supports BBG’s mission to present horticulture, botany, and education in an enjoyable way to the public. The Herb Garden is a dynamic educational space for classes and individuals alike, and demonstrates proper horticultural practices such as cover cropping and orchard management.
The original herb garden of BBG was planted in part by Works Progress Administration laborers in the 1930s and was located at the Washington Avenue entrance.
Herb Garden curator Caleb Leech spent his early childhood on New England farms whose idyllic appearance came at the cost of a lot of dreaded chores. While he did his best to shirk his responsibilities, the weeding, mucking, and hoeing eventually won his affection. By the time he was in his 20s, Caleb was working in his family’s Cape Cod landscaping business and making time to volunteer at the local CSA. Before arriving at BBG, Caleb honed his skills at seed foundations, permaculture gardens, and a hospital-healing garden. He is particularly interested in the connections people feel with plants and gardening.
Among the regional crops displayed in the Herb Garden are the following:
Today tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, corn, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes are ubiquitous in cuisines worldwide; it’s hard to believe that most were introduced from North and South America only a few hundred years ago.
The quintessential culinary herbs rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano all hail from the northern Mediterranean. Vegetables from this part of the world include plants from the cabbage family as well as carrots, beets, and artichokes.
The Fertile Crescent and Sub-Saharan Africa
A large percentage of the world’s food plants originated in this relatively small region, comprising the modern-day countries Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. From this “cradle of civilization” came grains like wheat, barley, and rye, as well as onions, garlic, lettuce, and many legumes.
East, South, and Southeast Asia and the Pacific
From this vast area ranging from India to the South Pacific originated staples like rice and soybeans as well as several major tropical food crops like taro and sugarcane.
The Herb Garden also displays medicinal herbs and fruit trees, including cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears.