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New Native Flora Garden Grows Local

When it comes to living and eating more sustainably, we’ve all heard, “Go local.” Brooklyn Botanic Garden will embody this edict when the Native Flora Garden expansion opens later this spring. The one-acre expansion features more than 150 plant species that evoke rapidly disappearing wild ecosystems in New Jersey, Long Island, the Catskills, and Staten Island, including coastal meadows and pine barrens. In fact, many of the species in the new plantings are classified as threatened or endangered. But remarkably, BBG sourced most specimens and seed from within a 100-mile radius of Brooklyn. By bringing the focus of plant-community conservation close to home, BBG hopes to inspire Brooklyn gardeners to branch out.

A call for urban biodiversity is at the root of this educational garden, says curator Uli Lorimer. Researchers tell us that cities across the country and the world are becoming “ecologically homogeneous”: When it comes to plant varieties, whether intentionally planted or spontaneously popping up, cities are beginning to all look alike. For instance, the same 50 plant species can be found in almost every one of the world’s largest cities. “The way things look in Brooklyn now has to do with how humans have interacted with the environment for hundreds, even thousands of years,” offers Uli. “But every day, unique local habitats are being lost. We’ve got to protect what little space is left.”

A stroll through the new Native Flora Garden expansion will serve to remind us that every scrap of green in our city—whether a community garden, tree bed, backyard, or crack in the sidewalk—is an opportunity to give native plants a chance at survival.

Here are some tips from Uli for “growing local” in the city:

  • Recognize and honor the plant communities already around you, but enhance them with native plants.
  • If you grow native plants, or know someone who does, save seeds to exchange with your neighbors. Then, share seedlings. That’s really keeping it local!
  • Get native plants and seed legally from reputable sources. If your neighborhood nursery doesn’t sell native plants, ask for them. And demand that they be locally and sustainably sourced!
  • Every little piece of green helps. It may not be obvious, but on a larger scale your little native garden or container connects with those of your neighbors to create wild corridors for pollinators and birds.
  • Embrace change as a constant—every tree lost to Sandy, for instance, is an opportunity for new growth.
  • Remember that “low maintenance” doesn’t mean “do nothing”; the gardener of a native planting is always editing the garden behind the scenes.
  • If you can, visit wild places just outside NYC—observe native plants truly at home.
  • Once you’ve planted a native garden, watch for the wildlife it attracts. That’s what Uli’s doing at the new Native Flora Garden: “It’s a neat opportunity to observe who shows up.”

For more information and sources for native plants, see these BBG tip sheets and gardening articles: “Native Plants for New York City Rain Gardens,” “Go Native,” and “A Bird Habitat Garden—Plant Choices and Tips.”

Nina Browne is the community program manager at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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