A bottle tree covered in colorful glass

African American Garden: Remembrance & Resilience

Welcome to the African American Garden at the Edible Academy. All gardens are special spots: a visit may be a leisurely stroll, a quest for information, or a search for memory. This garden was created to provide all three and more—to inspire thought, and to give you a brief look at the history of the African American experience in the United States through the lens of plants.

Discover the Plants

Explore the African American Garden and the species planted here with this interactive map.

List of Beds

The garden walk begins with plants such as cotton and sugar cane, rice and tobacco, which were the commodities driving the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that brought many Africans to these shores to work in the fields. The garden’s story continues with plants such as okra, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and various types of greens that turned up in kitchen gardens and on tables throughout the American South and North. Plants that were used to create, like the seagrass woven into baskets, gourds that became containers, and indigo that dyed garments make an appearance, as do plants that were used to cure ailments from fever to toothaches. There are plants that were foraged in the wild and became domesticated standbys, and even some plants that were central to traditional rituals and religious rites. The garden walk ends with several African plants and some that substituted for them in the North American context, a reminder that the African American world of plants, like African life in the North American world, was one of adaptation and transformation.

While many of the plants in the African American Garden are African in origin, some, such as corn, tomatoes, and peanuts, are native to this hemisphere; others, such as collard greens, come from Europe. The diverse origins of the plants also speaks to the range of African American experiences in the United States.

The plants in the garden give a curated glimpse at the diverse world of African Americans and the geographical context that is the United States. The final bed that celebrates substitutions and replacements is anchored by a bottle tree. In the southern United States, especially in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry, bottle trees are fixtures in many African American gardens; they are designed to protect the garden and its surroundings.

A visit to the African American Garden is enhanced by a poetry walk around its perimeter curated by Dante Micheaux of the Cave Canem Foundation. The New York Times has called Cave Canem, “A major incubator for the current renaissance in Black poetry” and in contemplating the words of its poets, visitors can add another layer to their appreciation the garden.

On select days, visitors can avail themselves of red drinks at the hibiscus drink stand, enjoying various versions of a traditional celebratory African American beverage. And every day, visitors can sit, catch some shade, relax, and simply enjoy the garden at one of the tables and umbrellas designed by scenic designer, Lawrence E. Moten III.

Whether you come for a brief walkthrough or decide to spend an afternoon, welcome to the African American Garden. We are very glad you are here.

Poetry Walk

The African American Garden’s poetry walk was curated by Dante Micheaux, poet and program director of Cave Canem, an arts organization created to cultivate the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.

Learn More

The African American Garden in the New York Botanical Garden, filled with vegetation. A sign in front of the vegetation that states "Making & Mending, we wore baskets with grasses and vegetable material. Some were used to gold thing in our homes and for storage in the places we worked. Others were important for our winnowing grains, processing tobacco, and in other task. We also wed plant fibers to create fishing nets and to weave fabric for clothing that we then died with colors made from still other plants."

Project Team

  1. Jessica B. Harris, Ph.D., is celebrated as America’s leading scholar on the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. Author of 12 critically acclaimed books, she has lectured on African American food and culture across the U.S. and abroad, and her work has appeared in numerous publications. Among her awards and accolades are an honorary doctorate from Johnson & Wales University and the DeMasters Award from the Association of Food Journalists. Dr. Harris was recently inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Hall of Fame and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021. High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America, the popular Netflix series inspired by her most-recent book, has been renewed for a second season.

  2. Dante Micheaux is the author of Amorous Shepherd and Circus, which won the Four Quartets Prize from the Poetry Society of America and the T. S. Eliot Foundation. His poems and translations have appeared in African American Review; The American Poetry Review; Callaloo; Literary Imagination; Poem-a-Day; Poetry; PN Review; and Tongue—among other journals and anthologies. Micheaux’s other honors include the 2020 Ambit Magazine Poetry Prize, and fellowships from Cave Canem Foundation and The New York Times Foundation. He is the Director of Programs for Cave Canem Foundation, a non-profit literary service organization committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.

  3. Lawrence E. Moten III is a New York City-based designer for plays, musicals, live events and installations. His design work, often new plays and world premieres, has been seen in New York City at Circle in the Square, with Page 73 Productions, 59E59 Theaters, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Cherry Lane Theatre, and Houses on The Moon as well as The New School and Marymount Manhattan College. Regionally his work has been seen at California Shakespeare Theater, American Conservatory Theater, The Old Globe, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, and many others. He has been the Resident Scenic Designer for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 National Playwrights Conference at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center. Moten was raised in Seattle, Wash., and San Antonio, Tex., and gained an appreciation for design, art, and music at a young age. He pursued his passion for design, earning his BFA in Theatrical Production Arts: Design from Ithaca College. He lives in Brooklyn and freelances across the country.

Special Thanks

Scott A. Barton, Ph.D.
Dante Micheaux
Glenn Roberts

Anson Mills
Experimental Farm Network
Green Planet Farm
Seed Savers Exchange

Bottle Tree:
Judith S. Kaye High School, Principal Andrew Brown
School of Cooperative Technical Education, Principal Corey Prober

Welding Teachers:
Amadou Barry and Greg Gauntlett

Raymond Bishop, Victor Borys, Isaiah Cruz, Abdoulaye Diallo, Mason Malave, Matthew Napolitano, Christopher Reyes

Garden graphics provided by the GrowVeg.com Garden Planner

Sarah Ross
Jovan Sage
Will Woys Weaver

Social Roots
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Sow True Seed
Truelove Seeds
Victory Seeds

The African American Garden is made possible with support from the Mellon Foundation.