En español | When you stroll through the New York Botanical Garden, you might think that the Garden of Eden probably looked like this. That’s no exaggeration: More than 1 million magnificent, well-tended plants thrive on the garden's 250 acres. Some are strange and intriguing, others are simple and colorful, their fruit within arm's reach. Yet all the plants blend in beautifully with the luxuriant landscape. Visitors are often surprised to find such a peaceful haven in the heart of the Bronx, flourishing in harmony with its hectic, densely populated surroundings.
The New York Botanical Garden, an educational and research institution as well as a plant museum, was founded in 1981. Today, it is considered a landmark — one of the largest botanical gardens in the world.
Among the botanical garden's most alluring sections stands its star attraction, the Edible Garden. Edible? Yes, it's a garden of plants you can eat. It’s where you’ll see the source of much of the food we buy at the supermarket. This museum will satisfy anyone's curiosity about how such plants take root, sprout and flower. It also teaches visitors how to grow them properly.
“This is a way to bring together different edible-plant programs that we already had," said Gayle Schmidt, the Botanical Garden's manager of public education. "The program is in its second year and it has been a great success.”
Judging by the long lines of visitors, she's right. The Edible Garden is open to the public through October 17. It offers fascinating demonstrations of how to grow and cook healthy food. You can find everything here, from tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, all types of legumes and traditional and exotic herbs, to lettuce of every kind — romaine, French, batavia, purple leaf — plus chard, spinach, cabbage, celery and a profusion of basil.
“The program has four sections: nurseries of famous chefs; the greenhouse garden of potted, exotic and edible plants; Martha Stewart's culinary herb garden; and the children’s vegetable garden. Each one of these gardens has a specific function,” Schmidt says.
The famous chefs’ nurseries include the favorite plants of several master cooks, such as Mario Batali. Oregano, basil, tomato, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and other edible plants from the garden are used in the daily cooking demonstrations. Here you learn to prepare healthy meals appropriate to each season, discover the nutritional value of the various foods and even get tips on hosting.
In late September, to usher in Hispanic Heritage Month, the garden held a flower and food festival, aptly titled Feria de Flores y Comida, that featured Latino chefs, including me. My menu included a salad that uses more than 10 herbs from the garden, salmon filets in cilantro sauce and a pie made of freshly picked apples, also from the grounds.
The gorgeous Victorian-style greenhouse is another garden jewel that showcases exotic and unusual varieties of edible plants, including 2-foot-long green beans.
At the beautifully designed children’s vegetable garden, Magaly Soca of Union City, New Jersey, and granddaughter Esther, 7, were visiting for the first time. “My granddaughter is fascinated,” Soca says. “It’s like walking through a fairly tale, with all those peppers and tomatoes hanging down and the eggplants and cabbage coming up from the ground.”
Esther adds proudly, “Today they taught us to make pizza, using tomatoes and a little herb called basil.” The garden is a paradise for children. Not only are the gardening and cooking classes fun, they also teach children to appreciate the food they eat every day.
If you enjoy cooking and good eating, then you should visit the Edible Garden. You’ll spend a delightful day learning about nutrition in perfect harmony with nature.