As husband-and-wife botanists Nathaniel Lord Britton and Elizabeth Gertrude Knight Britton explored the majestic Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Elizabeth asked a question that would bloom into something huge.
"Why couldn't we have something like this in New York?"
When the couple returned, they threw themselves into exploring that idea. In 1891, the state set aside land for the project, and private financiers including Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and J. Pierpont Morgan matched the city's financial commitments. In 1896, Nathaniel Lord Britton became The New York Botanical Garden's first director.
Today, the garden's mission is to be "an advocate for the plant kingdom," aiming to lead the charge to document every species of plant and fungus on the planet. Varied terrains unfurl across its 250 acres, including rolling hills, waterfalls, and 50 acres of the forest that once blanketed New York City. All told, there are more than a million plants within 50 gardens and plant collections.
Visitors can learn how to manage their own plants at the Home Gardening Center, which opened in 2005, then enter the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory—a New York City landmark that was unveiled in 1902 as the country's largest Victorian-style glass house. Rotating exhibitions and family events give visitors a reason to come back every season, and there are plenty of hands-on activities for kids, such as digging in the dirt until they reach hot magma in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden.