Brooklyn has the reputation of being a fast-paced, large and often loud borough. But on a typical Saturday morning, there’s a much different scene taking place at the Narrows Botanical Garden (NBG). Located on Shore Road between Bay Ridge Avenue and 72nd Street, it is an oasis where a certain tranquility prevails.
Though it neighbors the often busy Belt Parkway, the peaceful garden, created in 1995, offers residents a time capsule to a very different and beautiful Brooklyn. “We wanted to bring a part of Bay Ridge back to how it was 400-500 years ago,” said landscape designer and founder of NBG, Jimmy Johnson. “We’re just coming further from nature. Here, you already feel calmer,” added Johnson as he walked through the scenic Native Plant Garden.
There is certainly something special happening here. “To my knowledge, we have the only turtle sanctuary in Brooklyn,” said Johnson. Children and their parents marvel when the turtles made their occasional appearances from their pond and shells. In addition to unique exhibits, such as a cactus garden, there are also events such as free movies during the summer and Canine Halloween, a competition that has become a staple event for the community. Sometimes up to 40 costumed dogs show up with their owners a couple of weeks prior to Halloween.
Perhaps the most significant difference is the community. Working from a tiny budget, NBG is not for profit and relies solely on the significant aid of volunteers.
“This is all possible because of because of the volunteers. That is what makes Bay Ridge so special,” said Richard Haugland, president and co-founder of the garden. “3 Guys donations have been more than generous. They sometimes bring up to 400 pumpkins,” he added.
There is a true sense of unity. Johnson is constantly working on improving the park, whether it be tending to the plants, installing new donation boxes or assisting new volunteers. As he works, park visitors make a point of saying hello to the landscape designer and all the volunteers. Some he knows by name. “Bay Ridge is a healthy, old-fashioned neighborhood,” said Johnson.
Of all that Johnson and company have achieved in the ever-growing garden, one of the more satisfying accomplishments has been receiving well-deserved recognition. “We’re in tour books,” said Johnson. The garden also made a “Travel & Leisure Magazine” feature article as number 5 in the top 10 gardens to see in New York, without the aid of million dollar sponsors.
“This is truly a green project,” said Johnson.
It’s also a fairly remarkable one, at that.