Now Open: A New Wetland and Riparian Environment
A signature feature in the south Garden landscape, the new Shelby White and Leon Levy Water Garden is a 1.5-acre wetland and riparian environment with an integrated network of innovative sustainability features. The garden, designed by award-winning landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), highlights the beauty of water elements at BBG with a restored and expanded pond and brook system and more than 20,000 new plants.
The Shelby White and Leon Levy Water Garden is part of BBG’s Campaign for the Next Century.
The Water Garden features thousands of new trees, shrubs, bulbs, ferns, and other plants surrounding a freshwater pond and Belle’s Brook, a restored and expanded waterway that runs south from the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. The diverse plant palette includes a mix of ornamentals and “working plants”—those that serve specific roles like filtering water or providing habitat and food for wildlife. Many of the species along the water’s edge are riparian plants adapted to occasional submersion, thus ensuring visual interest and beauty even as water levels rise and fall.
Notable species in this new landscape include black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), a native tree with vivid fall foliage; large-leafed perennials with an exotic aesthetic, such as Oriental rhubarb (Rheum palmatum), umbrella plant (Darmera peltata), and leopard plant (Ligularia stenocephala); pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata), a wetland plant that attracts butterflies and dragonflies; blue flag iris (Iris versicolor), a lovely northeastern native that helps remove pollutants from the environment; and shrub willows (Salix species), offering a range of interesting features, such as bark color and texture, fall color, fragrance, and attractive form.
Masses of native and adapted perennials provide colorful blooms during the growing season, including marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), which has a bright yellow flowers in early spring, and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), which produces deep red flower spikes from mid- to late summer. Among the most dramatic brookside plants are prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) and giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), both of which grow up to ten feet tall.
BBG’s Water Conservation Project
Innovative new infrastructure allows BBG to collect, filter, and recirculate freshwater in the southern part of the Garden. The system employs biofilters along the loop to improve water quality as well as a settlement reservoir and rock weir to screen sediment before it reaches the pond at the terminus of the loop. When the garden-wide Water Conservation Project is completed in 2018, underground pipes will tie in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, allowing BBG to clean and recirculate rainwater collected throughout its 52-acre watershed and stored in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden pond, catchment sites along the brook, and the Water Garden pond. The project will conserve over 20 million gallons of freshwater each year.
The Garden is already using on-site sensors, satellite data, and computer-controlled outflow gates to release water from the pond in advance of major storm events. The pond can then capture rainwater runoff during wet weather rather than flow it into New York City’s storm-water system. Through this practice, Brooklyn Botanic Garden helps mitigate combined sewer overflow—a key urban sustainability challenge—and keep unwanted effluent out of local waterways.
Lead funding for the Water Garden and Water Conservation Project has been provided by the Leon Levy Foundation and Robert Wilson Charitable Trust, the Mayor of the City of New York, the New York City Council, and the Brooklyn Borough President. Additional support was provided by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Brooklyn Community Foundation, and the Helen V. Froehlich Foundation.