NYBG Family Garden Opening For The Season
This weekend on April 2nd, the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden will reopen for the season. Idyllically located on the east side of the New York Botanical Garden— between the oaks and the lilacs, and above a waterfall– the garden is open daily to the public from 1:30 to 5:30 PM. Access is free with the All-Garden Pass, and families are encouraged to join in for hands-on gardening and crafts. Cooking demonstrations themed around what is seasonal in the garden start May 4th and take place at 2 and 4 PM every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. The opportunity is a unique one, especially in a city like New York where tactile encounters with nature are often difficult to find. Rather than simply admiring the plants on the grounds, visitors can get down in the dirt, enjoying an experience of the garden from petal to roots.
In addition to its programming for the public, the NYBG’s Family Garden also hosts the Children’s Gardening Program, now in its 60th year (one grandfather recently reminisced about his own time in the program, while dropping off his young granddaughter). The program is open to ages three through 12, with increasing responsibility for older kids. The weekly two-hour sessions are divided into time spent tending to garden plots and lessons about different aspects of the natural world, which often take advantage of their location with the NYBG.
Arriving at the top of the small hill where the garden is located, visitors are immediately greeted at the gate by Munchie, a giant 30-foot topiary in the shape of caterpillar, whose round head hangs over the fence, looking out onto the walkway. The front half of the space is dominated by orderly garden beds and is reserved for the different gardening programs. One section of beds comprises the Mario Batali’s Kitchen Gardens, which feature traditional Italian heirloom vegetables arranged according to the courses in an Italian meal (the antipasti section featuring artichokes and mushrooms, the primi growing wheat to represent the pasta, and so on). The gardens are largely tended by a fleet of volunteers, aged 14 to 89 years old. Within this pool are the Global Gardeners– volunteers who own a plot for the season and commit to a certain number of hours, tending plants relevant to their namesake country.
Towards the back, two standalone wooden roofs shelter picnic tables, where lessons take place. One faces a small stage equipped with a cooking station, which hosts the culinary demonstrations throughout the week. The last third of the space– simply called “The Meadow”– grows with less formal order, but acts as an attraction for pollinators. In the Meadow, paths wind between beds, with an old row boat (the Meadow Cruiser) settled in a clearing. A wigwam authentically built according to traditional Native American specifications is surrounded by Native American plants. In the furthest corner, a small pond is home to frogs and fish, with a stout wooden bridge crossing over it.
This season is the last for this particular configuration of the space. Once the garden has closed in the fall, construction will begin on the Edible Academy: an ambitious plan to completely transform the site into a modern space for learning, gardening, and cooking. The new layout will be furnished with all the latest innovations: photovoltaic panels, compost toilets, and a green roof. Most importantly, indoor spaces will now be available in winter, allowing the program to double the number of children served both through their Children’s Gardening Program and for the schools that visit throughout the year. The new design also embraces the natural beauty of the site’s surroundings– a new patio overlooks the river below, while windows in the classrooms look out onto the garden outside– ensuring that even while indoors, kids will still feel nature close at hand. These new renovations are not only expanding the number of children served by the NYBG’s program in the present, they are also ensuring its continuation for future generations.
To learn more about the Ruth Rea Howell Garden, Children’s Gardening Program, or the Edible Academy, visit the New York Botanical Garden’s website.