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There are secrets blooming in the flowers and

There are secrets blooming in the flowers and hiding in the trees at the New York Botanical Garden. (Credit: Kristine Paulus via Flickr (CC BY-SA))

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Secrets of the New York Botanical Garden: 125 years of beauty and research

2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10458

Spend an afternoon at the New York Botanical Garden and you’ll forget you’re in the Bronx.

“It’s a piece of the wilderness right in the middle of New York City,” Todd Forrest, vice president of horticulture and editor of “The New York Botanical Garden,” said to amNewYork during a tour of the grounds.

That piece of wilderness he’s referring to is actually a 50-acre forest, virtually untouched since the garden’s founding in 1891. A national historical landmark, it also encompasses 50 specialty gardens, the largest plant library in the world, historical buildings and a portion of the Bronx River.

For the garden’s 125th anniversary, amNewYork uncovers the secrets blooming in its flowers and hiding in its trees.

In 1888, Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife,

Credit: The New York Botanical Garden; Rory Glaeseman

The Garden has a royal ‘sister’ in England

In 1888, Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife, Elizabeth Knight Britton, visited the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London. Mesmerized by Kew's beauty, the couple was inspired to recreate the garden in their hometown, New York.

To this day, many similarities remain between the New York Botanical Garden and Kew. Aside from both being in the hearts of major cities, the famous Palm House at Kew, above, left, was also imitated in the structural construction of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in New York, Forrest said.

Don't be alarmed by the smell of rotting

Credit: LuEsther T. Mertz Library

What’s that smell? Probably the rare corpse flower

Don't be alarmed by the smell of rotting meat coming from the Conservatory. It's just the rare Amorphophallus titanum blooming.

Known to be one of the largest flowers in the world, it's unpredictable blooming cycle and distinct stench make it a popular spectacle. It first bloomed at the garden nearly 80 years ago, in 1937, and was expected to be at its most pungent again in July.

According to the NYBG, the plant was named the official flower of the Bronx in 1939 after its second rare bloom. In 2000, the daylily was given that title in its place.

Credit: Larry Lederman; The New York Botanical Garden

The NYBG wasn’t designed only to be pretty

"It was designed not to be a pretty garden, but to be a cultural facility," Forrest said. Established under a three-part mission, the founding intentions of the garden were for research, education and horticulture -- none of which require floral arrangements, winding paths or cascading waterfalls.

Those were all added to attract locals, some who need to be drawn in by beauty to learn about the importance of nature preservation.

The garden likes to let nature do its

Credit: The New York Botanical Garden; Meghan Giannotta

Mother Tree and her 'babies' can be found on the main grounds

The garden likes to let nature do its thing. The proof is in the main grounds outside the LuEsther T. Mertz Library.

There's an old tree in the front of the building, known to staff as the Mother Tree, which has been around since before the garden's establishment. How did it get its name? It's rumored that the dozen other trees that make up the Tulip Tree Allée were "born" from the Mother Tree's seeds, Forrest said.

Don't expect the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden to

Credit: The New York Botanical Garden

You can tie the knot at the garden, but not anywhere you want

Don't expect the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden to be closed off for your ceremony. The NYBG is known for weddings and engagement celebrations, but it'll only close a garden from the public for a wedding under extra-special circumstances, Forrest said.

The garden hosts weddings, bridal and baby showers and other special events in three venues: the Garden and Terrace Room, the Stone Mill and the Hudson Garden Grill.

Many of the trees you'll see weren't planted

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

Some of the oldest trees in New York can be found at the garden

Many of the trees you'll see weren't planted to be a part of the garden. They sprouted naturally hundreds of years ago before the garden was even founded. Thanks to Britton, who planned, built and planted existing exhibitions around them, some of the oldest remaining trees in New York can be found at the garden.

The two oldest, pictured, are nearly 250 years old. They are sadly nearing the end of their lifespans, Forrest said. They can be found across from the Nolen Greenhouses.

As you can expect, carving your name into

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

People have carved their names into the trees

As you can expect, carving your name into the trees is NOT encouraged. Posts, signs and barriers separate the trees from the walkways, but that didn't stop visitors from breaking out pocketknives and going to town on one of New York's remaining historical plants. Passing this area of the Thain Family Forest, where trees hardly have any untouched bark left, may tempt you to leave behind your own legacy on the trunks. Don't.

The garden, thankfully, has not had any issues with visitors doing so since the pictured carvings occurred decades ago.

The garden is a preserved area of natural

Credit: Kristine Paulus via Flickr (CC BY-SA)

Not all animals are welcome (but they stay anyway)

The garden is a preserved area of natural habitats, a complete 180 from the city streets. You can imagine the critters that take refuge in it in the middle of New York City.

The bugs (butterflies, bees) and birds (hummingbirds, owls) are welcome. But the squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks aren't -- to an extent. "Certain amounts are acceptable, but they eat the plants!" Forrest said, who calls the garden a squirrel's paradise.

The NYBG has served as the background scenery

Credit: Columbia Pictures

It's been the backdrop for notable films

The NYBG has served as the background scenery for many popular films and television shows including Robin Williams' "Awakenings," Angelina Jolie's "Salt," pictured, and Fox's "Gotham."

No matter how famous the celebrity, or big the brand, the set and crews have to follow the same rules as visitors. The garden has received requests from film crews to use smoke and fog machines, and even set off explosives. If the request is harmful to the plants, it'll be denied immediately, Forrest said.

Trade in those subway aromas for the scent

Credit: Larry Lederman

It might be home to the best scents in NYC

Trade in those subway aromas for the scent of beautiful blooming flowers. The roses (blooming June through October), daffodils (April), azaleas (May) and lilies (June through August) are the best-smelling plant collections in the garden, Forrest said.

It's been nearly four years since superstorm Sandy

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The benches are made from old trees (watch out for splinters)

It's been nearly four years since superstorm Sandy tore through the East Coast in 2012, but there are still remnants of the storm in the Thain Family Forest.

"Sandy took down trees that were 300-plus years old," Forrest said. Some of these remain broken stumps to this day. The trees that fell live on within the garden, though. They were cut and repurposed as benches.

Running free on the abundant lawns at the

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

There’s only one spot where you’re allowed to walk on the grass

Running free on the abundant lawns at the garden may be a tempting escape from the crowded city sidewalks, but don't do it. There's actually only one place in the entire garden where visitors are encouraged to step foot near the foliage -- the Clay Family Picnic Pavilions.

We can't tell you how to get to

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The bridge was in an opening scene of 'Sesame Street'

We can't tell you how to get to Sesame Street, but we can tell you how to get to a spot where the opening credits were filmed in the 1970s. The garden's Hester Bridge, which spans across a stretch of the Bronx River that flows through the grounds, was featured during the show's opening, Forrest said.

As you wander through the 250-plus acres of

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

There are little clues you’re still in the city

As you wander through the 250-plus acres of trees, flowers and shrubbery the garden has to offer, you'll spot one small sign of city life poking through. In every plant collection, there are fire hydrants painted green to blend in with the surroundings.

What's a fire hydrant doing in the middle of a forest, you ask? Technically stretching more than 14 New York City blocks, the NYBG has to obey fire code like any public street, Forrest said.

But don't eat them. There's a snack bar

Credit: Larry Lederman

Some of the plants in the garden are edible

But don't eat them. There's a snack bar for that.

There's a group of wild berry relatives growing in the Upland Tropical Rain Forest. The Ericaceae, cranberries, azaleas and rhododendrons are all very closely related to blueberries, according to the book, "The New York Botanical Garden."

There are even teams dedicated to teaching New Yorkers how to harvest and eat certain plants. At the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden, kids can help the NYBG grow broccoli, kale, beans and peas, among other crops.

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