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The Botanical Gardens of New York City: History in Full Bloom

PODCAST Nature and history intertwine in all five boroughs — from the Bronx River to the shores of Staten Island — in this special episode about New York City’s many gardens.

A botanical garden is more than just a pretty place; it’s a collection of plant life for the purposes of preservation, education and study. But in an urban environment like New York City, botanical gardens also must engage with modern life, becoming both a park and natural history museum.

Spring at the New York Botanical Garden / Photo by Greg Young

The New York Botanical Garden, established in 1891, became a sort of Gilded Age trophy room for exotic trees, plants and flowers, astride the natural features of The Bronx (and an old tobacco mill).

When the Brooklyn Botanic Garden opened next to the Brooklyn Museum in 1911, its delights included an extraordinary Japanese garden by Takeo Shiota, one of the first of its kind in the United States.

The World’s Fair of 1939-40 also brought an international flavor to New York City, and one of its more peculiar exhibitions — called Gardens on Parade — stuck around in the form of the Queens Botanical Garden.

PLUS: Gardens help save New York City landmarks — from an historic estate overlooking the Hudson River to a stately collection of architecture from the early 19th century in Staten Island.

Listen now on your favorite podcast player:

To visit the sites mentioned in this podcast, please visit their websites for hours, exhibitions and safety practices:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Taken January 2021 / Photo by Greg Young
New York Botanical Garden
Photo by Greg Young
Queens Botanical Garden
Photo by Tom Meyers
Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Staten Island Botanical Garden
Photo by Greg Young
Wave Hill
Photo by Greg Young

The New York Botanical Garden conservatory under construction, 1900 (courtesy New-York Historical Society)

The Lorillard Snuff Mill, a 19th century industrial treasure located inside the New York Botanical Garden.

Site of the former Lorillard Snuff Mill, New York Botanical Garden / Photo by Greg Young
Library of Congress

A few photomechanical postcards of some of the stars of this week’s show.


After taking in the history of botanical gardens in New York, check out these related episodes from our back catalog:

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