Field Trip: A Greenhouse Hopes To Grow In Brooklyn

There is nothing quite like humidity in New York.  With its density and weight, it has a presence – and it likes to make its presence known, often making the blacktop-enhanced summertime heat seem that much more oppressive. 

And that kind of weather is perfect for a car-subway-walk field trip.  The idea was inspired by a recent article in the New York Times which focused on the Greenwood Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and its historic cemetery.

Situated on 478 acres, Green-Wood Cemetery was founded in the 1830s and is now the final resting place for more than 550,000 souls: politicians, soldiers, actors, dancers, freed slaves, designers, and journalists among them.  At one point in the 1850s, the cemetery, with path after path named after plants, even rivaled Niagara Falls as a tourist destination.

On this very hot and very humid day, there are few visitors approaching the ornate gateway.  The sedum in the iron birdbath seems to enjoy the heat, but the big-leafed coleus is much more content in the shade of the enormous archway.

The only noise is the squawks from above.  The bird call sounds familiar but out of place in Brooklyn – but there, nesting in the center spire of the gate, is a flock of parrots.

Just across from the cemetery’s main entrance are the remains of a wood-and-glass greenhouse. 

The greenhouse once belonged to James Weir, Jr., who had also built more than 20 other greenhouses and nurseries throughout Brooklyn.  In 1971, the McGovern family, also in the florist industry, bought the property.

Over the decades, the greenhouse, now considered a landmark as the only Victorian-era greenhouse still standing in New York, has fallen into disrepair, with peeling paint, rotting wood, crumbling foundations, and missing and broken panes of glass.  A year ago, however, Green-Wood cemetery purchased the greenhouse and is in the process of turning it into a visitors’ center.  And so, this relic now sits behind security gates, waiting to be reborn.

I’m not sure how long this agave has been here, but I like to think that as I look through the hazy glass, I am looking at the ghost of a plant from long ago.

Next Post: The Brooklyn walking tour continues with views from the bridge and a parade of window boxes.



19 thoughts on “Field Trip: A Greenhouse Hopes To Grow In Brooklyn

    • I was really surprised to hear and see parrots in Brooklyn. Very cool — and I hope that the greenhouse can be restored. It should be beautiful.

    • I’m looking forward to the restoration. Perhaps I’ll return on a cooler day to explore the cemetery, which also boasts Battle Hill, Brooklyn’s highest natural point.

  1. I love the idea of a plant/travel guide!! Your travels always give me great ideas of new places to visit and sights to see. Combine that with flowers and I am ready to hit the road!

  2. Hi, Kevin – loved this post. Just an FYI – my maternal grandparents (Nana & Papa) are buried in Greenwood Cemetery. I think my infant brother is, too, with Uncle Karl. I don’t know where the deed is now, but I’m sure it had to be with “Girlie’s” papers, so you may have it! I have a feeling you will be returning to see how the greenhouse renovations turn out – it should be beautiful when complete! I look forward to seeing the pix in the future! Take care!

    • Hi Lona. You and me both — there is so much architectural interest with this greenhouse, and it’s great to see that something from the past will be preserved in a land of glass and cement towers.

  3. Wow, that is by far the most impressive cemetery I have ever seen! The greenhouse is fabulous even in disrepair – it will look so nice when fixed up. I am so curious as to how long that agave has been in there! I loved hearing about all the history of such an interesting place! (And I had no idea that there were wild parrots in that area!)

    • The agave really through me. I have no idea when it was placed in there, although someone had clearly taken care of it — but it’s one of those things that needs its own legend — much like the lost flock of Brooklyn parrots. 🙂

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