In the borough of Queens in New York City, overlooked by the flyways of JFK airport, is one of the Big Apples best kept secrets, the beautiful horticultural gem of Queens Botanical Gardens (QBG).
In contrast to the better known New York Botanical Gardens (established 1891) and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (established 1910), Queens grew out of a 1939 World’s Fair exhibit called “Gardens on Parade”. Queens opened to the public in 1946 as the “Queens Botanical Garden Society” after local residents saved and expanded the original World’s Fair exhibit. The Garden remained at the original World’s Fair site until 1961 when it moved to its current location on Main Street in Flushing. Today QBG is a 16-hectare (39-acre) jewel at the heart of one of New York’s most culturally diverse neighbourhoods.
One of the first things that I noticed about QBG is that the signs are in four languages: English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese. This underscores the commitment of this Botanic Garden to be a place of and for its local community – a garden that seeks to create meaningful connections between people, plants and cultures.
The Visitor & Administration Building
This impressive building, finished in 2007, is complete with sustainable features such as a green roof and composting toilet. It is New York City’s first public green building to be Platinum certified by the US Green Building Council – making it one of New York’s greenest buildings. A signed Green Trail, that I first picked up while walking on the green roof, runs throughout the garden providing tips for sustainable living and gardening that anyone can follow.
I was lucky enough to visit QBG in June, just as the Rose Garden was in full bloom. With the heady scent of roses literally billowing on the breeze you can see why QBG, and especially the dedicated Wedding Garden, are a big hit with local brides and grooms. QBG’s commitment to sustainability is also expressed through the selection of roses resistant to pest and disease removing the need to spray.
QBG Farm and NYC Compost Project
QBG also contains a large farm. Compost for growing the rows of gorgeous heirloom vegetables is created by the Compost Team, who collect organic matter from designated stops across the borough, turning it into rich dark compost on-site. Adult education classes and internships also focus on supporting NYC residents to understand the value of recycling organic matter into compost. QBG Farm strives to teach New Yorkers about urban farming, healthy soil, sustainability, culture and the environmental stewardship that threads these concepts together.
Food produced by the Farm is distributed to volunteers and interns as well as a number of emergency food relief programs across the city – integrating recycling into the local food and gardening systems.
QBG is quiet simply a gem illustrating how at its very best a Botanic Garden can be an integral part of the life and soul of its community. It is also an oasis of beauty in one of the world’s great mega cities. A must see for any serious garden tourist – a great place to unwind and recover from long-haul jet lag.
[All photos by Sharon Willoughby]