Diarist

Mary Cantwell
Garden Nuptials in Brooklyn
Spring 1992

This is not the place to read about what the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is like in all its seasons. Only about what it was like on one winter night and one summer afternoon.

Those are not the only times I have climbed the stairs out of the subway to Eastern Parkway. I have wandered the rose garden when everything was in full, almost ridiculous, bloom, and I have sauntered, with a friend who was raised in Flatbush, along a path whose concrete paving celebrates the famed of Brooklyn. Her name isn’t there yet, but we hope, we hope—I less fervently, although more loudly, than she, a native who wishes for immortality on her own turf.

But about the winter night. A friend was married in a Quaker Meeting House in Park Slope, and I had made my first trip to this new territory in an explorer’s spirit. (Like most Manhattanites, I am unfamiliar with all but my personal borough.) The reception was in the garden’s Palm House, and by the time the wedding was over, the sun was setting and the air was cool.

As we strolled through the Japanese Garden to get to the wedding reception, the darkness made it seem less Japanese than Keatsian, all withered sedge and songless birds. This is nonsense, I am told. Birds were chirping along the pond, and the bushes still held fugitive berries. But not for me. To me it was melancholy, and all the more beautiful for being so sad.

Ahead of us the Palm House glittered, rather like the glass stands in which the hero of Willa Cather’s story “Paul’s Case” saw flower gardens blooming in the snow. But the flowers were the bride and groom and the guests, all of them dancing in the warmth of what is essentially an enormous greenhouse. The dinner table at which I sat was near the entrance, and often during the evening someone would open the doors and let in the frigid air, which, unlike most New York air, smelled of nothing but its pristine self.

The summer afternoon came several years later, last year to be precise. The occasion was another wedding, my younger daughter’s this time, and she had worried for months about the table bouquets, the color of the tablecloths, and the icing on the cake. But when I walked toward the Palm House on the day of the ceremony, I saw her standing by a little pond, as serene as a nun. The weather was warm but misty—reminiscent of Irish weather—and her dress was the ivory of the dogwood blossoms near the Rose Garden.

We all stood outdoors, me prodding the photographer to hurry up, and the egrets behind us grooming their feathers like members of the wedding party. Then we scurried into the Palm House, to hide behind the latticed screens that separated the little gilt chairs and the bouquets, where the ceremony would take place, from the reception area, with its luncheon tables all dressed up and crowded together. The guests took their places; I frowned over the latecomers; the bride stayed serene. Eventually we—her father, our daughter, and I—slipped through the lattice and down the aisle. As we did, a snowy egret with perfect timing flew up against the sky, and a friend, coincidentally the man whose wedding reception I had attended here, said to his wife, “How do you suppose Mary managed that?”

I remember little else: only the mist lifting, the sun shining, and the ficus trees strung with fairy lights in the corners of this huge room. There was dancing, I know, and the cutting of the cake, and, after the bride and groom had left, a long, lazy stroll through trees and grassy air to the parking lot and home. Oh, something else. I remember walkers in the garden pausing to stare through the great glass windows at the celebrants inside.

This, then, is all I know of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but perhaps it is enough. I know that it is beautiful, that I have been happy here, and that there are too few places in this city, which I persist in loving despite its stubborn unlovability, about which one can say such things.

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