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The Back Garden Project: Native Plants Grow in Brooklyn (But Good Luck Buying Them)

This is the eighth post in The Back Garden Project, one GOOD community member's effort to turn a neglected corner of the city into a thriving garden.

Last week, I made my first visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (I know, I know, what took me so long?). I was right on time for the amazing lilac bloom (above), and it was also the peak of cherry blossom season, so the Hanami festival was in full swing. But my main destination, of course, was its famous Native Flora Garden. It is truly a wonderful space, secluded from the rest of the gardens (if rather unfortunately pressed up against noisy Flatbush Avenue), and beautifully designed with a variety of different local "eco-regions" and "plant communities." Here are just a few of my favorite plants.

First, I was impressed by the veritable sea of mayapple they had growing there. I wish mine would spread like that.

Then there was this staggeringly beautiful Dicentra exemia (the aptly named "wild bleeding heart").

Might be a good idea to sow some of these...

Of course there were some with awesome old-timey New York names.

And some you'd just want to avoid altogether.

That's just a small slice of it. The BBG is seriously committed to native plants in a number of other ways, from the classes they offer on native horticulture to the books they sell on topics such as replacing invasive species with competitive native equivalents. Yet when I rolled over to the small plant and gardening store on the grounds, I couldn't find a single native plant for sale. Asking about where they might be found only got me confused looks and polite apologies.

Undeterred, I returned the following week for the garden's famous annual spring plant sale. Armed with my new membership card, I went during the much-touted Members-Only Preview Sale extravaganza, this time confident that I would find some native plants to bring home. It was a mob scene but again, I found very few natives for sale. A very helpful staff member offered that there were some, but that they were scattered about. She told me that they had once tried to have a dedicated native plant section at the sale, but that nobody had bought them. I checked out the ones they did have (about five or six species, usually with the option of a few different cultivated varieties) and bought a few of them.

The Botanic Garden is a truly beautiful space and a haven for plant life in central Brooklyn. What's more, it actively promotes the defense and restoration of New York's local and native ecology through classes, publications, and the scientific work conducted on the premises. But native plants are difficult and expensive to find in the city, and perhaps one of the easiest things they could do would be simply to provide these species to people who would like to take their good advice.

At any rate, check in next time for a full account of my recent native plant acquisitions, from the BBG and beyond.

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