Magnolia Plaza is an elegant formal garden of magnificent trees spread in front of the beaux arts Administration Building. The sweet scent and showy blossoms of magnolias are among the early signs of spring at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. In March, the star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) bloom, covering the trees with millions of lacy white flowers. In April the Plaza is splashed with the ivory, yellow, pink, and rich purple of 17 varieties of magnolias. The last to bloom in the collection, the sweet-bay magnolia (M. virginiana), reveals its fragrant, creamy white flowers in June.
Important new magnolia hybrids have been developed at the Garden, including 'Elizabeth', a vigorous tree with clear yellow flowers and the ‘Judy Zuk’ magnolia, named in honor of BBG’s former president.
Magnolia Plaza was first planted in the spring of 1932. It was designed by Harold Caparn, the Garden's landscape architect from 1912 to 1945, and funded by the BBG Auxiliary, which raised more than $1,500 for the project. The first planting included 80 magnolias, 5,000 ivy plants, 650 euonymus, 450 California privet, 60 barberry shrubs, 20 akebias, and two tulip trees.
In 1933, the compass and armillary sphere were added to Magnolia Plaza, the bequest of A.W. Jenkins, a member of the Garden's governing committee. The sphere is made of bronze bands representing the principle celestial circles and constellations. A thin bronze rod, or gnomon, passes through the center of the sphere, pointing north and casting a shadow on the inside of the sphere, which can be used to tell the approximate time.
Wayken Shaw is the curator of the Judith D. Zuk Magnolia Plaza and Lily Pool Terrace, including the Annual and Perennial Borders. After earning a master’s in landscape architecture from the University of Arizona, Wayken practiced urban design for nine years on both coasts before pursuing a more “hands-on” career in ornamental horticulture through a joint program between Bronx Community College and the New York Botanical Garden. Wayken sees gardening as an important connection between form and function, with plants as an aesthetic, educational, and physically comforting medium for defining space and creating a sense of place in our urban fabric.
From March-blooming star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) to saucer magnolias (M. x soulangiana) in April, Magnolia Plaza is sweetly scented with 72 trees highlighting 17 varieties.