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Creative Destruction at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The Native Flora Garden, closed following Hurricane Irene, is set to reopen soon.

For many New Yorkers, Hurricane Irene—a fierce storm to be sure, but one that did most of its damage upstate and in New England—has become a distant memory. However, that’s not the case for Uli Lorimer, the curator of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Native Flora Garden, which sustained some serious damage.

The garden lost a grove of four 80-year-old American Persimmon trees that fell into the swampy bog. A Sweet-Bay Magnolia was crushed, a 50-year-old Beech tree snapped its top, a 10-foot-tall Sugar Maple split in half, a Red Oak ended up on Flatbush Ave., and the garden suffered additional collateral damage when a beautiful old wrought iron fence was also destroyed by fallen trees.

More than three weeks after it hit Brooklyn on the evening of August 28th, the garden remains closed while staff performs safety work and cleanup. That was a great disappointment for the two dozen people who arrived at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Visitor Center last Saturday afternoon, expecting to take a guided tour of the garden with Mr. Lorimer as part of the ongoing celebrations honoring the Native Flora Garden's 100 year anniversary. Instead, they were treated to a slide presentation of autumn highlights and a lecture.

The Native Flora Garden opened in 1911 and was BBG’s first specialty garden. A "garden within a garden," it contains plants that are indigenous to within a 100 mile radius of NYC and is one of the first ecologically themed native gardens of its kind in the country. Expansion plans are underway.

Next year, it will grow by two acres and see the reintroduction of a coastal plain meadow and a pine barrens habitat—plant communities that thrive on space and sunlight.

As sad as it is to lose old trees, their loss creates more room and an opportunity for increased light in what was once a shady, dense canopy of trees. Lorimer, ever the optimist, reassured his audience that Irene is part of the natural order of storms, diseases, and other phenomena that take down trees and create an opportunity to replant. 

“It will look lovely,” he said.

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