NY Botanical Garden: Fun with Food

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NY Botanical Garden
Bronx Artist Ben Hider is one of 30 local artists invited to create tables for NYBG’s Around The Table exhibition. Photo: NYBG

Around the Table: Stories of The Foods We Love

By Cathie Arquilla
Senior Writer

One of the takeaways from the New York Botanical Garden’s (NYBG) new exhibition, Around the Table: Stories of the Food We Love, is our nostalgic connection to food. The exhibition is rich with sense memories.

Thoughts will germinate–Oh, there’s a cinnamon plant. That reminds me of my Mom’s apple pie.

Look at that hops plant, I loved the IPA I recently tasted. Who knew that artichokes were actually flowers!? This sugar cane plant takes me back to that island vacation.

NY Botanical Garden: Fun with Food 1
The beginnings of an amazing salad!

As a visitor, you’ll be romanced by the message of sitting at the table to rediscover foods you know and love. Or perhaps you’ll learn about spices, drinks, and greens you’ve never heard of!

Maybe I Can Do That!

Not only does Around the Table remind us of what we ate yesterday, but it also takes us around the world and back through time.

The Conservatory Courtyard’s potted and raised garden displays show dietary staples we are familiar with, as well as varieties we have never seen. And the curation of the entire exhibition is still, NYBG beautiful!

All the departments of the garden collaborated to create something accessible (maybe I can do that), yet deeply artistic.

Food Schooling

The Conservatory brings home the exhibition's theme of The Foods (and plants) We Love.
The Conservatory brings home the exhibition’s theme of The Foods (and plants) We Love.

There is a lot to learn about our planet’s edible plants, and Around The Table strives to educate you on many of them.

You’ll learn the story of the gourd family, the extraordinary varieties of peppers, tomatoes and their origins, figs, and on and on.

NYBG’s Conservatory Lawn hosts a field of dwarf sorghum (a corn-like plant) and barley that will grow to at least four feet by the exhibition’s end on September 11th.

There is also an assortment of apple trees here. It’s a walking-though-the-fields immersive experience.

The historic Conservatory houses a wide assortment of fruit-bearing trees, at home in containers, and creeping in overhead trellises. You’ll recognize, baboo, coffee, bananas, and more.

The pavilion connecting the grand domed greenhouses is a creative highlight, an extraordinary garden border designed with tasting in mind.

Find out what breadfruit or black pepper plants looks like. Discover cranberry and blueberry plants and learn that they are one of the few North American native fruits.

NY Botanical Garden: Fun with Food 2
Artists living and working in the Bronx tell their food stories through the picnic tables they created for Around the Table. Photo: NYBG

No Ground? No Problem!

Also in this walkway are two pocket green walls. They look like canvas shoe holders for really huge feet! Plants are taking root in the pockets producing leaf vegetables, strawberries, and herbs that will be harvested throughout the exhibition.

It’s an illustration that you really don’t even need the ground to grow a vegetable garden, a wall or small patio will do!

Bronx Residents Visit Daily For Free – NYC Wednesdays

Putting a local stamp on the exhibition, NYBG chose 30 Bronx artists to design tables that explore the idea of Around the Table, and what that means to them, with regard to food heritage and celebrations.

NY Botanical Garden: Fun with Food 3
Learn how the African American food and gardening histories contribute to American food culture. Photo: NYBG

The tables are situated throughout the Garden’s 250 acres. It’s fun to run across these whimsical picnic tables as you’re exploring this world-renowned botanical garden.

Being neighborly, NYBG grounds admission is free daily to residents of the Bronx. Other NYC residents can enjoy the same privilege on Wednesdays. The Metro-North Railroad can get you there in 20 minutes from Grand Central Station in Manhattan. Take the Harlem local line to Botanical Garden Station and just walk across the street.

NY Botanical Garden: Fun with Food 4
Poster-size vintage seed packets decorate the gallery dedicated to vegetarian cookbooks from centuries past.

African American Food Ways

The Edible Academy is a 3-acre section of NYBG dedicated to teaching the public about growing and preparing food. Here, the Around the Table exhibition installed the African American Garden: Remembrance & Resilience.

It’s a sequence of eight garden beds designed in a semi-circle that describes African American food histories and stories.

In this area, there’s also a lovely sitting area, where you can almost smell the roses of the nearby Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden which is a feast of colorful blooms from over 650 varieties while in season (from May to October).

Around The Table In The Libary

The 19-century Renaissance Revival style Mertz Library Building is so grand it actually makes you want to go inside while you’re at the Garden. The stately tree-lined approach (Tulip Tree Allee) and Fountain of Life are resplendent! Check this walkway off your NYBG to-do list.

For Around the Table galleries inside explore 19th and 20th-century plant-based cookbooks and vintage seed catalogs. Check out the display of visitors’ artwork in the Rotunda and add your own veggie drawing using the provided prompts.

The Conservatory courtyard pools are the center piece for container gardens educating visitors on food plants.
The Conservatory courtyard pools are the centerpiece for container gardens educating visitors on food plants.

Colombian-American Artist Lina Puerta has a dedicated gallery exhibiting her contemporary mixed media work that explores the role of immigrant farmworkers and their relationship to the land.

Her work is colorful and crafty, some incorporating portraiture, that personalizes the piece.

The Mertz Library also houses the Gardens’ scholarly, administration, and educational offices, as well as its vast collection of horticulture and botany books.

Plan Your Visit: Around The Table Ends September 11th.

Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love has been in the making for at least two years. Many of the plants were started last year in the Garden’s greenhouses.

It’s an ambitious exhibition that touches on several themes; biodiversity, nostalgia, the senses, food heritage, and food commerce to name a few.

There are several programs and events dedicated to the exhibition, so check the NYBG website to tap into one of the food demonstrations, table tours, or weekend celebrations.

You’ll leave inspired to create a vegetable garden of your own, be it on a window sill, in pockets on a wall, or just about anywhere!