Horticulture

85 acres of environmentally-conscious lawns, meadows, hedgerows, wetlands, salt marshes, and trees.

Photo by Etienne Frossard

Brooklyn Bridge Park is made up of seven unique and interconnected ecosystems that beautify the landscape and provide habitats for a vast array of wildlife. To ensure the health and biological diversity of our lawns, trees, meadows and marshes, we say no to chemical pesticides and engage in sustainable land management such as composting and capturing rainwater for irrigation. Organic plant care is a good thing for birds, butterflies, and ladybugs - and growing a variety of green spaces helps park goers connect with nature in exciting and dynamic ways.

If you’d like to learn more about the creatures that benefit from our horticultural approach, download our handy Spring Butterfly Guide, which will help you locate and identify species commonly seen at BBP.

Ecosystems

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s landscape is composed of a sophisticated collection of seven ecosystems which bring diversity to the Park’s visual beauty and provide habitats for thousands of animal species. Read on to learn about these distinct horticultural ecosystems.

Ornamental Gardens: Admire the gorgeous plant life, both native and exotic, that’s been chosen for its vibrant flowers, evergreen foliage and rich fall colors.

Freshwater Gardens: Experience the natural beauty and utility of the Freshwater Gardens, which also filter rainwater for reuse in the park’s irrigation system.

Native Woodland Gardens: Get to know your habitat and take in the native plants commonly found in and around the edges of our nearby forests.

Meadows: Discover the park’s many meadows: stretches of grass and herbaceous perennials that thrive in the sunshine.

Salt Marshes: Explore plant communities like those that historically edged the coasts of the Northeast - all of them formed by Smooth Cordgrass.

Lawns: Discover the lawns of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which are maintained organically by creating a healthy soil ecosystem.

Green Roofs: See Piers 1, 5 and 6 for our green roofs, which cool buildings in the summer, insulate them in the winter and adorn them with beautiful flora all year round.

Ornamental Gardens

Where: Entrances to Pier 1 and Pier 6; surrounding the playgrounds on Pier 6; in front of Jane’s Carousel at Empire Fulton Ferry.

Ornamental gardens grace the entrances, major walkways and playgrounds of the park, providing visual interest throughout the seasons. These gardens are comprised of native and exotic plants selected for their gorgeous flowers, evergreen foliage and incredible fall color.

From bamboo that can grow 20’ high, to hydrangea flowers as big as your head, these trees and shrubs create lush scenery all year round. While known for their looks, these plants are not divas requiring monthly pruning and endless fertilizer. The ornamental gardens are made up of many hardy plants that have both beauty and brawn.

Freshwater Gardens

Where: Pier 1, adjacent to the park greenway and Pier 6 next to the loop road.

The freshwater gardens are some of the most unique ecosystems in Brooklyn. They not only provide lush natural beauty, but they collect and filter rainwater for reuse in the park’s irrigation system. The gardens contain many plants that were native to this region prior to European development and therefore host an incredible array of native birds, insects, and even turtles. The freshwater gardens are a favorite of our growing butterfly and migratory bird populations, as the flowers and fruiting shrubs provide abundant habitat. The gardens are gorgeous in all seasons: bright blooms in spring, lush greenery and wildflowers in summer and some of the best fall color in the park.

There are five ponds on Pier 1 along the Greenway, each with different ornamental plantings and connected by four weirs pumping water between them. Pier 6 hosts an exploratory marsh garden next to the Water Lab. Walk along the paths of any one of the Freshwater Gardens and immerse yourself in these exotic (yet native!) environments.

Native Woodland Gardens

Where: Pier 1, along the central spine pathway and on the banks of the Freshwater Gardens.

The native woodland gardens consist of plants native to the region that are commonly found in and around the edges of our forests. They are densely planted with trees, shrubs, flowering herbaceous plants, grasses and sedges. The native woodland garden beds line the north side of the Pier 1 pathway and function as a “hedgerow” to block wind and excessive sun. Native woodlands can also be found above the freshwater gardens along the base of Squibb Park Bridge.

The concept behind these plantings is “managed succession,” in which gardeners encourage certain plants, remove others and even replant areas as conditions change. For instance, fast-growing trees will eventually give way to the long-term canopies of Oak, Sweetgum and Locust. Sun-loving flowers will eventually be shaded out and replaced by plants of the forest floor.

Meadows

Where: Pier 1, between the Granite Prospect and the Vale Lawn; Pier 6, along the loop road and in front of One Brooklyn Bridge Park; Empire Fulton Ferry, at the base of the large lawn; Main Street, under the Hawthorn trees at the Washington St entrance

Meadows are plant communities in full sun, dominated by grasses and herbaceous perennials. With long grasses swaying in the breeze and tall flowers like Black-Eyed Susans and Cone Flowers attracting bees, these beautiful areas reach their peak in summer. In the fall, the afternoon sun catches the bronze foliage and illuminates it like fire.

In the northeastern region of the United States, prairies, meadows and savannahs are generally temporary ecosystems, usually resulting from fires or grazing, eventually seceding to trees over time. Permanent meadows must be managed - often with controlled burning or seasonal mowing to discourage the woody plants that would naturally dominate. Brooklyn Bridge Park opts to mow each spring and watch the meadows rise again each season.

Brooklyn Bridge Park has a number of distinct small meadows. A dry, seed-started meadow can be found in the loop road on Pier 6, abutting the path above Slide Mountain. Further along the loop road another small meadow lies at the northwest corner of One Brooklyn Bridge Park and hosts a variety of ornamental native flowers. The large lawn in Empire Fulton Ferry contains a moist meadow, dominated by sedges and lined with shrubs. These are all fantastic areas for butterfly and bee activity in the warm weather, as well as bird watching in the winter.


Pier 6 Flower Field

One of BBP’s newest features, the Pier 6 Flower Field is also one of its most beautiful. BBP gardeners planted this sweeping meadow with a diverse array of native species selected to complement each other in appearance and habitat requirements. The first blooms appear in the spring, filling the field with vibrant colors that persist as others bloom through the summer. In the fall, intricate seed heads and pods dominate the landscape. Located in the middle of Pier 6, and with an impressive view of southern Manhattan, there’s no other meadow quite like it.

If you would like to receive a packet of seeds collected from the Pier 6 Flower Field, please email your interest to brooklynbridgepark@bbpnyc.org.

Salt Marshes

Where: Pier 1, along the south edge of the pier just after the Freshwater Gardens, Pier 5, along the east edge of Picnic Peninsula, and John Street, in the tidal channel in the northeast corner.

Salt Marshes are a rare example of a monoculture in the park. Here, and in nature, Smooth Cordgrass forms exclusive communities that used to dominate the coasts of the Northeast. Now a rare occurrence along the shoreline, the Cordgrass provides a habitat for ducks and other waterfowl that eat and live in the grass, along with many crustaceans and bivalves.

Cordgrass thrives in the Salt Marsh because it can withstand the oxygen-constricting saltwater. While most plants die when their roots lose oxygen, Cordgrass is able to move oxygen from its leaves to its submerged stems. While these salt marshes would succumb to succession in a natural environment, giving way to less salt tolerant plants over time, we maintain this ecosystem at Brooklyn Bridge Park as a Salt Marsh indefinitely, going to great lengths to remove the natural debris that collects in the grass.

Lawns

Where: Pier 1, Empire Fulton Ferry, Pier 6, Main Street, Pier 3 Greenway Terrace.

The lawns of Brooklyn Bridge Park are maintained organically. This is a complex and experimental process because turf lawns are an unnatural ecosystem—the grass is not native, the soil is compacted and the plants are continuously cut to keep them low.

For Brooklyn Bridge Park lawns, we create a healthy soil ecosystem with stable populations of the symbiotic organisms that help grass grow. We then feed both the organisms and the grasses with organic nutrients and compost tea.

The most difficult aspect of turf management is compaction. Thousands of people enjoy park lawns, and this constant pressure from foot traffic squeezes the soil and restricts the root growth of the grass. Compaction is most severe when the soils are waterlogged after it rains. To mitigate compaction, it is vital to close the lawns on a weekly schedule, after big events and any time they become very wet.

To prevent compaction, it is vital to close the lawns on a weekly schedule, after big events, and any time they are too wet. To ensure you can enjoy the lush grass at Brooklyn Bridge Park, at least one lawn will remain open at all times unless conditions are too wet.

Lawns can be found throughout the park at Empire Fulton Ferry, Pier 1, Pier 3 Greenway Terrace and Pier 6.

Green Roofs

Where: Pier 1 and Pier 6 Gatehouses; Pier 5 Concession Stand.

Look up on Piers 1, 5 and 6 to find our three green roofs. Each contains shrubs and perennials well adapted to the dry and windy conditions. Green roofs perform important functions for the park and the buildings they grow on: cooling the building in the summer and insulating it in the winter, reducing rainwater runoff and mitigating urban heat island effect. Flowers and branches can be seen in spring spilling over the edges and down the walls. For more information, check out our sustainability section.


Plant Guides & Plant List

Click to download any one of our seasonal Plant Guides, designed to help you love our plants as much as we do! For those interested in specific plants please download our plant list.

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