My sweet friend Denise brought me a much needed dose of Oregon by coming to visit me in New York, and I saved the best gardening-nerdy things for her visit. One of our stops was at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, which is not such a far walk for our apartment. We had a nice, albeit hot, walk through beautiful Prospect Park on our way to the gardens. We took advantage of their free admission day on Tuesdays. Who says you can’t leave the house in NYC without spending $20 bucks?

I was surprised at how large the garden is – they include a lot in a small space. There is a Japanese-style pond garden in one area, a children’s vegetable garden, an herb garden area and many more in between. Established in 1914, the children’s garden is full of life and delicious looking vegetables. There were tons of school kids in there doing some sort of summer camp, learning all about growing vegetables. For city like New York, it is so essential these kids have opportunities like this to get connected to nature.

The ornamental areas were nice, but it was like 100 degrees outside so we really made a beeline straight for the foodie areas. The herb garden was definitely the highlight of our trip. It was really a mixture of vegetable crops and herbs together.

You could learn a lot about garden design by visiting this area throughout the year. They used perennial herbs like sage and thyme to create borders and structure, but filled in annual areas with contrasting colors of swiss chard, kale, etc.

They also talked a lot through signage about the origin of various edible crops. I knew corn and tomatoes were native to the Americas, but only found out this summer from a plantation in the South the watermelon and okra are originally from Africa. I always find it interesting when Italian meals are not made with tomatoes, since that means the recipe could possibly be pre-Columbus.

The herb garden area had an amazing array of color schemes to showcase, this one using amaranth, chard and dark red beets to create a fiery display. It will look striking in Fall when temperatures cool down and the trees all begin to change.

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is well-designed in that different areas will make pretty amazing displays year round. They have a garden for cherry blossoms, that will look magical in early Spring. The lilac area will be great in early summer. And pretty much everything will be brilliant in Fall as the leaves change. We probably would have enjoyed the trip more if it wasn’t 100 degrees and humid that day, but we got in for free and it was fun to visit plants again for awhile.

Also, they have a really surprisingly good gift shop! I am used to seeing kitschy junk at those stores, but they actually have cool stuff. They have an extensive book collection, seed packets, stationary, pottery, jewelery, metal work – some of the stuff locally made and some shipped in from China. Denise bought me this totally awesome deck of cards that has botanical drawings on one side and history/medicinal uses for 50 herbs. I couldn’t find it in their online store, but I did find it here.

More garden-nerdy spots in New York to come!

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Written by Renee Wilkinson