The Woodland Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
MVVA’s design of the Elizabeth Scholtz Woodland Garden transforms a little-known enclave in the northwest corner of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) into a surprising and delightful landscape that invites exploration beneath a canopy of tall oaks. MVVA began work on the Scholtz Garden after a request to redesign a non-ADA-compliant path connecting BBG’s northern entrance to the area. The site was located among the steep slopes of Mount Prospect Park to the north, a maintenance yard to the west, the Native Flora Garden to the south, and a grove of mature trees in the center. Responding to these complex surroundings as well as the site’s dry and shady conditions, the client and MVVA proposed that the space could be analogous to a brownstone backyard—a place that could show visitors the possibilities of their own gardens.
Building on that concept, MVVA created the central feature of the garden: a roofless, cast-in-place concrete structure enclosing a playful tangle of intertwined paths tucked under the canopies of existing mature oak trees. The structure resembles an enchanting ruin that emerges unexpectedly from the forest.
Once inside, visitors encounter intersecting brick paths, one white and the other black, that meander through a dense carpet of perennials and a grove of sweet bay magnolias and tall stewartia. The magnolias’ dark, glossy leaves and the stewartias’ smooth, cinnamon-colored trunks contrast with the rough, board-formed concrete walls. Among the paths, spires of unusual flowering plants and exotic bulbs punctuate evergreen groundcover. The walls trap the sweet fragrance of magnolias in the early summer and “windows” frame discrete views of the surrounding landscape and a secluded terrace that BBG also uses for small gatherings.
Studies of the planting palette for both the exterior and interior woodland garden drove the design from the outset. While the exterior behaves as a continuation of the surrounding forest, the walls seem to form a threshold into a more contemplative and intimate scale of horticulture.