Glorious Gardens: African American at NYBG


Red Okra at African American Garden at the New York Botanical Gardens
Beautiful red okra growing in the African American Garden at the New York Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kimberly Ferguson.

This past the summer I have been taking trips to the New York Botanical Garden and each time I visit the African American Garden to see the progress. I never knew some of these plants could grow in New York! The garden was made in collaboration Jessica Harris, Ph.D, a prominent African American culinary historian, professor, and author, Dante Micheaux, an author and poet, and Lawrence E. Moten III, a theatrical stage designer. It is culturally significant, educational, and beautiful. The garden is abundant with crops that are common in African American cuisine and culture some of which were a major part of the American economy. Here, I wanted to share my experience and some pictures highlighting my experience.


Cotton growing in the African American Garden at the New York Botanical Gardens
Cotton growing in the African American Garden at the New York Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kimberly Ferguson.

At this garden, I saw plethora of foods growing. The cultural foods were okra, rice, yams, beans, tomato, peppers, squashes, corn, millet, sorghum, watermelon, collard greens, mustard greens, and more. There were even plants that were non-food like sweet grass which was used to make sweetgrass baskets which were made by Gullah/Geechee African Americans in the coastal Carolinas and Georgia. The crops that were for economic gain of the enslavers were cotton, indigo, tobacco, sugar cane, and also rice. Seeing all this was truly amazing and educational experience. Many of these things, I have never seen growing and I certainly did not know they could grow in New York. I thought it was particularly amazing to see where it all begins from seeds to something we can eat, wear, or use.


Watermelon growing in the African American Garden at the New York Botanical Gardens.
Watermelon growing in the African American Garden at the New York Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kimberly Ferguson.

I really felt a connection to this garden as it really brought to life the significant cultural contributions my ancestors made to American culinary history and the economy. I was able to imagine what was like to been out everyday toiling all day no matter the weather. Of course, I could never know what it was actually like but I like to think that my ancestors would be happy to know that I looked at these plants at my own will for as long as I wanted and got to home and write about it.


Photo of the garden from distance
Photo of the garden from distance. Photo by Kimberly Ferguson.

The plants were very beautiful and I hope it will be a recurring exhibit but I'm not sure if it will be. Anyway, I encourage everyone to go and see it if you have the chance.


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