Brooklyn Botanic Garden Announces $7.5M Leon Levy Foundation Gift

Garden Will Undergo Its Most Significant Enhancements Since Its Founding in 1910

Release Date: April 19, 2011

Brooklyn, NY—The Leon Levy Foundation, led by philanthropist Shelby White, has pledged its support of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Campaign for the Next Century with a gift of $7.5 million, the largest contribution by a living donor in the institution’s 100-year history.

The gift will help support a suite of projects and initiatives that affects virtually every part of the Garden and will extend well beyond its borders, collectively comprising the most ambitious set of enhancements since the Garden’s founding. The Campaign’s goal is to raise as much as $100 million.

Scot Medbury, President of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, said, “Shelby White is a passionate champion of horticulture, conservation, and preservation of green spaces, and her gift to Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) was inspired by the Garden’s commitment to conservation and environmental stewardship, in particular one of BBG’s most significant landscape design projects, focused on water conservation. Encompassing much of the Garden’s 52 acres, it includes rainfall capture and recirculation, a new Water Garden, and an integrated approach to reducing BBG’s overall ecological impact through lessened demand on the municipal water supply.”

Ms. White said, “I grew up in Brooklyn during the borough’s ‘golden age.’ And through innovative projects such as this one, the Garden is embarked on a new golden age that combines magnificent plant life with essential conservation. We are delighted that the Leon Levy Foundation can play a role in making the Garden’s vision a reality.”

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who has provided significant leadership support for BBG’s project and program development, said, “Shelby White has always been proud of her Brooklyn heritage, and her gift is a testament to the impact Brooklyn Botanic Garden has had on our borough and its residents over the past century. Thanks to her generosity, the Garden will continue to be a lush, urban oasis whose roots are firmly rooted in the Brooklyn soil—a perennial attraction for the century ahead.”

“This extraordinary gift from Shelby White and the Leon Levy Foundation is truly transformative for the Garden, and joins tremendous early support for the Campaign from many other BBG supporters,” said Frederick Bland, Chairman of the Board of Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “The Campaign is the result of over a decade of careful planning, and it will enable the Garden to serve its community even better in its second century of service.”

A shortage of urban green space, a growing need for environmental education, and increased Garden attendance has inspired the most significant garden renewal effort since BBG’s founding. The Campaign for the Next Century will create more than four acres of new, expanded, and restored gardens and dramatically improve amenities to better welcome and orient visitors: enhancements that will help the Garden continue to foster a love and understanding of plants and the natural world.

Beyond transforming the Garden physically, the Campaign for the Next Century will increase BBG’s outreach presence on a grassroots level. BBG will extend its leadership in environmental conservation and sustainability by expanding community horticulture programs and teaching by example in its green building and water conservation initiatives. It will also provide additional institutional financial stability through a strengthened endowment and increased revenue-generating capacity.

Two remarkable challenge grants from Brooklyn Community Foundation and the Robert Wilson Charitable Trust, along with many other generous private gifts, are also helping to bring the Campaign’s projects and program enhancements to fruition. Brooklyn Botanic Garden gratefully acknowledges Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the New York City Council and Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke for their early leadership support of the Campaign. These leadership gifts along with generous support from the Garden’s Board of Trustees and other close friends has helped the Garden reach 75 percent of its ambitious campaign fundraising goal.

Each of the Campaign’s projects, along with increased outreach presence in the community, will help BBG support a greener, healthier, more beautiful Brooklyn for all.

For more information on the Campaign for the Next Century, visit

All projects are in the planning, design, or construction phase. Target completion for project suite: 2015–16.

New Herb Garden (Completed August 2010)One hundred years ago, Brooklyn farmers grew more food than anywhere else in America except Queens! Two and a half times larger than the former Herb Garden, this new garden showcases an artfully planted collection of edible plants, including vegetables, fruits, and herbs from around the world. Mirroring Brooklyn’s cultural diversity, the new Herb Garden grows edible plants from all over the globe, highlighting the origins of foods that have become part of our daily cuisine. The new Herb Garden models sustainable horticultural practices and serves as a living classroom for home gardening, cooking, and other demonstrations.

Expanded Native Flora Garden
The 100-year-old Native Flora Garden—BBG’s first specialty garden—was established to display the plant communities found within a 100-mile radius of New York City. However, as the garden matured and the tree canopy became increasingly dense, sun-loving plants and several distinct habitats could no longer thrive. The expansion will reintroduce two of these sun-loving plant communities, a coastal plain meadow and pine barrens, both unique and threatened habitats within the metropolitan region.

Expanded Discovery Garden
Studies indicate that time spent exploring natural environments improves children’s observational and reasoning skills. More than twice the size of the existing garden, the expanded Discovery Garden will broaden the interactive opportunities for children, families, and school groups and allow visitors of all ages to explore and be immersed in nature as they develop lifelong connections with the environment and a sense of love and concern for the natural world. Three zones—the Meadow Zone, the Woodland Zone, and the Gardening Zone—will encourage discovery and learning through diverse plantings, engaging signs, and hands-on learning tools.

New Water Garden
A signature feature in the south Garden landscape, the Water Garden will anchor BBG’s garden-wide water conservation project and highlight species that thrive at the water’s edge. The pond will be replenished by rainwater; diverting storm water will lessen the stress on the 6,700 miles of sewer lines that run beneath the city. Throughout the seasons, visitors to the new Water Garden will have multiple points of view from which to appreciate the diverse plant palette, including colorful irises, grasses, and sedges. The Water Garden will also provide improved habitat for wildlife, particularly the many birds that naturally frequent the Garden year-round.

Water Conservation
Water use—horticultural and otherwise—is expected to become one of the most challenging issues of the 21st century, both in the Northeast and around the world. BBG will make structural changes to capture rainwater, recirculate the water in the pond and brook system, and fortify the surrounding landscape. As a result of this project, the pond in the historic 1915 Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden will be refreshed with circulating, biologically filtered water—an improvement that will also significantly reduce BBG’s water use and dependence on the greater New York water supply.

As part of this project, the Plant Family Collection, which lines both sides of the brook and is representative of the 500-year-old tradition of arranging botanical collections taxonomically, will be strengthened with the addition of new species and improved learning opportunities.

New Woodland Garden
Nestled under a canopy of magnificent trees at BBG’s north end, this new garden will display plants that flourish in shady, relatively dry conditions—similar to those encountered by many urban gardeners. Integrated among native and nonnative plant displays are intimate pathways and gathering areas that will enhance the garden experience and invite closer study. The Woodland Garden will display a diverse array of ecologically appropriate plants that offer beauty throughout the seasons and inspiration to urban shade gardeners. Sustainable gardening tips and techniques will offer urban gardeners guidance for nurturing their own shade-loving plants

New Visitor Center
The innovative and environmentally sustainable Visitor Center at Washington Avenue will welcome Garden visitors into a gracious complex that incorporates beautiful plantings, new exhibits, an elegant garden shop, and improved amenities. Designed by the renowned firm Weiss/Manfredi, BBG aspires to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification for the new Visitor Center. The building’s numerous sustainable design elements—including a living roof, geothermal wells, water savings elements, and more—will serve as models for the types of ecological practices that BBG believes are vital for a healthy planet.

New Entrances
BBG is working to better welcome its surrounding communities and beautify the streetscape with inviting new entrances. Along with aesthetic improvements, these new facilities will offer better amenities for all our visitors.

The new Visitor Center at Washington Avenue will not only welcome BBG visitors but also create an eco-friendly streetscape. Two rain gardens and more street trees will offer a refreshing green space for visitors and passersby alike, contributing to the ongoing revitalization of the Crown Heights neighborhood.

The new Flatbush Avenue entrance to the Garden, the primary point of entry for school groups, will better serve visitors arriving from Prospect Park and Empire Boulevard while preserving the experience of entering through the historic original gate. The curved form of an early-spring-blooming garden will guide visitors to a new ticket booth, restrooms, and other improvements at the southern end of the Garden.

Greening Beyond the Garden
There are fewer acres of green space per person in NYC than in almost any other major American city, and as more people settle in our neighborhoods, green space will become even more important. The Garden’s new and expanded outreach programs—which will train a local network of volunteer educator-advocates (Brooklyn Urban Gardener program), support a growing number of local gardens (Brooklyn Community Garden Alliance), and work to ensure the long-term health of New York City’s street trees (in partnership with MillionTreesNYC Stewardship Corps)—will help hundreds of thousands of community members through hands-on horticultural field training.

About Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Founded in 1910, Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) is an independent nonprofit institution committed to education, research, and the display of horticulture. Situated on 52 acres in the heart of Brooklyn, the Garden is home to over 12,000 kinds of plants and hosts more than 725,000 visitors annually. Learn more at

Brooklyn Botanic Garden is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The Garden is closed on Mondays except public holidays. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens (65 and older) and students with ID. Children under 12, all school groups, and Garden members are admitted free at all times. For directions, please visit

Learn what’s happening at Brooklyn Botanic Garden at, read the Garden’s blog at, and see photos of current highlights at

About the Leon Levy Foundation
The Leon Levy Foundation, founded in 2004, is a private, not-for-profit foundation created from the estate of Leon Levy, an investor with a longstanding commitment to philanthropy. The Foundation’s overarching goal is to support scholarship at the highest level, ultimately advancing knowledge and improving the lives of individuals and society at large.
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