Field Trip: New York Botanical Garden

New York Botanical Garden Frida Kahlo posterAs promised/threatened at the end of our Bed-Stuy walkabout, Andrea and I planned on visiting Crown Heights next, but when the weather turned hot and humid, we opted instead for the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. If you’re going to be hot and humid, you might as well be surrounded by greenery.

We took the subway to Grand Central, and then bought $13 off-peak round-trip tickets on Metro-North. You purchase tickets based on the station name (Botanical Garden, easy enough), but even if you know that you need to be on the Harlem local line, there’s no easy way of figuring out which train that might be (because trains are announced not by line but by their final destination). The system presumes a level of knowledge that made me pity foreigners trying to make the trip. (A couple of days later, Adam and I had the same problem attempting to get to Greenwich.) All of which is to say that Andrea and I got on the wrong train and had to switch at the 125th Street station. Luckily, another passenger advised us what to do, because good luck finding anyone who works for Metro-North once you’re onboard.

The station is right by the NYBG entrance, and buying a ticket to the garden is easy, if painful on the wallet. (Adult admission is $20 on weekdays and $25 on weekends.) Andrea had suggested the visit because she was curious to see the “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” exhibit (up through Nov. 1), so we headed straightaway to the building where the art part of the show is located. The art component, it turns out, is very small, with the emphasis squarely on this famous self-portrait.

Frida KahloOther parts of the building had displays devoted to Kahlo’s life, and I found them to be like reading an encyclopedia. Humberto Spindola’s delightful Kahlo-inspired sculpture was more engaging.

New York Botanical Garden Two Fridas by Humberto SpindolaWe moved on to the garden part of the show. It was pretty enough, but Kahlo evidently liked plants that are extremely common in the U.S. these days, so the show lacked the novelty of exotica—notwithstanding, of course, the frisson one gets from saying the Spanish word for “bouganvillea.”

New York Botanical Garden ziniaNew York Botanical Garden marigoldsNew York Botanical Garden bugambiliaThere were bright colors in the installation, a reference to the Casa Azul that Kahlo shared with Diego Rivera.

New York Botanical Garden Frida Kahlo exhibitNew York Botanical Garden Frida Kahlo wallNew York Botanical Garden Kahlo borderThe Kahlo show is not at all unpleasant, but Andrea and I were a bit underwhelmed. I think it might help if you walk in as a huge Kahlo fan hungry for more. For me, the most enlightening aspect came in the gift shop, where you can see what an industry Kahlophilia has become—her face was everywhere.

To be honest, however, I got more pleasure out of this garden.

New York Botanical Garden gardenAnd this reflection.

New York Botanical Garden conservatory water featureAnd these lotuses (loti!). I could stare at that second flower for hours.

New York Botanical Garden lotus New York Botanical Garden lotus2And I kept wishing someone—maybe Mats Gustafson or Leanne Shapton—would be commissioned to do a book of watercolors or drawings of all the leaves in the garden, or at least the ones with the most interesting shapes. This wasn’t the most striking or unusual leaf, but it’s the only one I took a photo of.

New York Botanical Garden leavesWe may not have loved the Kahlo show, but we both adored being surrounded by the lush greenery and the sumptuous quietude.

New York Botanical Garden conservatoryHaving gone nearly three hours without eating, I was starving. The food concession turned out to be a lovely surprise. We split premade black bean salad and farro salad, and they were delicious. There was plenty of seating inside and out (but we chose inside for a break from the heat).

After lunch, we boarded the tram that journeys around the park. I was thrilled to sit for a while, but the recorded audioguide was uninspired and the ride was bouncy and noisy. That said, we did have a noteworthy fellow passenger….

New York Botanical Garden Frida Kahlo actorWhen I next visit the garden, I think I’ll plan on exploring it by foot. And canoe! We saw a sign for portage; turns out that you can take a “short paddle on the Bronx River with the Bronx River Alliance.”

And then it was time to leave. A Manhattan-bound train came right away, and before we knew it, we were back in Grand Central Terminal. Where we got a bonus: Several of the chandeliers above the ramps outside the Oyster Bar were lowered, presumably for cleaning and/or bulb replacement.

Grand Central Terminal chandelierPrevious Field Trip posts:
The New Whitney Museum
The Rockaways
S-Cruise by Smartboat
Wave Hill
Governors Island
F.D.R. Four Freedoms Park
Litchfield County, Conn.
One Wall Street
Behind the Scenes at Grand Central Terminal
The Howard/Crosby Microneighborhood
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
East River Ferry
Museum of American Finance



  1. If u get the NYC ID, it is free, U get 1 year free membership to cultural institutions such as met museum, bronx zoo, Brooklyn botanical garden n New York botanical garden. It’s easy to get the NYC Id. U schedule appointment online and they have locations in fidi. If u bring your driver license it takes less than 15 min.

    • All of those you mentioned and others have specific free days without a NYC ID if you can visit on that day, i.e. Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays, NYBG Grounds admission is free to everyone all day on Wednesdays and from 9 a.m.–10 a.m. on Saturdays, NY Hall of Science: free general admission on Fridays, 2 – 5 pm and Sundays, 10 – 11 am. Brooklyn Botanical Garden: Tuesdays Free, Saturdays 10–12 noon Free. You can find each institution’s free days/hours on their website.

      IMO, after the first year of NYC ID, respective NYC ID will probably suck.