Described as “The Jewel of Bay Ridge”, Narrows Botanical Gardens (NBG) is an oasis of natural splendor in Brooklyn’s urban landscape. It is also one of New York City’s largest and longest lasting all-volunteer gardening initiatives. The Gardens are situated on four and a half acres of parkland along Shore Road with a spectacular view of the Narrows waterway. Among the many exhibits to be seen are the Native Plant Sanctuary, Lily Pond, Zen Garden, and the Old and Modern Rose Gardens. Most recently, the new Native Meadow Flower Hillside. It is also home to a menagerie of animals including east coast native turtles, bees, chickens, as well as many species of native birds. This eclectic and impressive array of displays are all due to the efforts of a dedicated group of neighborhood volunteers.
An important NBG goal is to educate and inform the community about the natural world and to foster knowledge and interest about plants and animals, especially those native to the Brooklyn area. The NBG is a popular destination spot for many New Yorkers. Its annual events such as the outdoor summer movie series, and the autumn Harvest Festival draw large, appreciative crowds.
This wasn’t always the case. For decades, this stretch of parkland was uncared for and had deteriorated into an
unusable waste of public space. As one longtime Bay Ridge resident and NBG volunteer stated: "I remember this park before the Gardens. There was nothing but old tires and trash – no one came here!” Luckily in 1995, two local garden enthusiasts, James Johnson and Joan Regan began efforts to reclaim and revive the neglected tree pits in the park. Working independently at first, they soon joined forces and encouraged other enthusiastic neighbors to pitch in. What started as a small group was evolving into a genuine grassroots crusade.
Regan mobilized the troops, while Johnson, a landscape designer, began formulating long-term plans. Johnson had a grand vision for what the park could and eventually would become. A few years in, Richard Haugland, principle gardener of Manhattan’s City Hall Park, got involved. Johnson and Haugland guided the creation of several large exhibits such as a pollinating garden and the only outdoor cactus garden in NYC. Little by little, a dramatic transformation took root. A vacant sandbox that had stood unused for years was repurposed into a lily pond. Fragrant bushes were planted along the expanse of the Belt Parkway, drowning out the drone of speeding cars. A greenhouse was erected to grow seedlings and cuttings into unique and beautiful plants for sale in the spring, as well as to plant in The Gardens. The metamorphosis was appreciated by onlookers, supported by local government, and aided by the Parks Department. But the most important factor in its success remained the dedication and toil of an ever growing roster of volunteers.
Narrows Botanical Gardens has flourished for 20 years now. Grateful for support from businesses and a diverse group of political leaders, The NBG remains a community initiative. And the number of visitors discovering The Gardens for the first time continues to grow every year. In 2013, Condé Nast Traveler touted The NBG as being one of the top five gardens to be visited in NYC. And, in July of 2015, ProFlowers named Narrows Botanical Gardens one of the Top 15 Botanical Gardens in all of New York State.
We invite you to experience the Gardens, whether it’s stopping to smell the roses or feeding the chickens. Visitor or volunteer, at Narrows Botanical Gardens, the people ARE the difference.