Upon entering Brooklyn Botanic Garden from its Eastern Parkway entrance, the first space you encounter is the Osborne Garden, a semi-formal garden where the art of Italianate landscaping comes to life. With ten wisteria-draped pergolas framing an emerald lawn, a bolder wall with large plantings of varied colored and textured plants, several stone features, and benches, the garden is a soothing oasis in the midst of the city. In spring, daffodils, pansies, and tulips bloom, followed by crab apples and cherries, which gradually give way to azaleas, rhododendrons, wisterias and dogwood. The focal point of the plaza is a water basin more than 17 feet in diameter. The fountain sits within a semicircle of limestone benches with curious acoustic properties. Sit at one end, and you can whisper clearly to someone sitting at the opposite side. These “whispering benches” are a much beloved feature to this lush space.
The Osborne Garden was designed in 1935 by landscape architect Harold Caparn and dedicated to Dean Clay Osborne in 1939 by his wife Sade Elizabeth Osborne. It was designed as a showcase for ornamental plants and built in part by laborers in the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration. 1947, landscape architect Alice Recknagel Ireys designed plantings of large masses of white, red, and pink azaleas, rhododendrons, wisterias, and evergreens to frame the central lawn. The garden is continually undergoing incremental improvements while remaining true to this original intention. Over time the variety of plants in this collection has grown with the addition of autumn interest foliage as well as Dogwood trees and a beautifully manicured Carpinus hedge. A recent renovation of the Boulder Wall is highlighted by the choice of plants that repeat the patterns, textures, and colors represented throughout the garden.
The original Eastern Parkway gate was the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Tuch in 1946. The Fawcett Terrace Garden, just west of the Osborne Garden, was dedicated in 1958 as a memorial to Judge Lewis Fawcett by his sisters, Sade Elizabeth Osborne and Mrs. Theodore Frohne. The new Eastern parkway gate was built as part of the recent renovation of the Osborne Garden that was completed in 2005.
Nancy Nieland is curator of the Osborne Garden. After completing a BBG horticulture internship, Nancy Nieland joined the staff as a gardener’s aide in 2005. She became a grounds gardener and heavy equipment operator in 2008 and in 2012 was promoted to the position of curator of the Osborne Garden. “I enjoy public gardening and seeing the visitors as they enter BBG’s Eastern Parkway entrance. They are transported from a busy city street to the vast green Osborne Garden.” Before joining BBG, Nancy studied horticultural therapy and was a gardener at the landscaping company Blondie’s Treehouse in Mamaroneck, New York. She is a master composter and teaches turf management and groundcovers in BBG’s Horticulture Certificate Program.
The three-acre, Italian-style formal Osborne Garden is a kaleidoscope of color in May with azaleas, rhododendrons, crabapples, and wisteria draped over 10 wood and stone pergolas. Evergreens and flowering fruit trees such as cherries and crab apples shade the walkways while the rhododendrons and azaleas line the paths, and on the west side is a boulder wall with bulb and herbaceous plantings and accented with shrubs, perennials, and annuals.