BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Walking with Adrian Benepe on a picture-perfect day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, he can point out many of the trees and plants we pass by. Not all of them though.
"I may know most of the native trees in New York, but I'm not going to know all of these trees, because there are so many different species here from around the world,” said Benepe, the new president and CEO of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
I met up with him on his first day as the leader of the 110-year-old living museum, a dream job for a native New Yorker with a love of the outdoors.
Benepe said he has visited the garden often in the past because of its beauty, and is still pinching himself that he actually gets to run the place.
Benepe is no stranger to green spaces. He was parks commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg for 11 years.
His career in the Parks Department has spanned some 30 years, where his positions ranged from picking up trash as a teen at East River Park, serving as an Urban Park Ranger, and even running the press office for a few years.
After his time as commissioner, he spent eight years with the Trust for Public Land, advocating for parks and playgrounds within a 10-minute walking distance for city residents.
Benepe takes the helm as the garden is bouncing back from a serious deficit incurred after a five-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said there is still work to be done as the 52-acre site welcomes visitors, but with limited capacity and timed entry ticketing.
Presently, the safety of visitors and staff is priority number one, Benepe said. For the future, initiatives include doubling down on the garden’s digital presence, increasing access to the garden, and celebrating the people of Brooklyn and the way they use plants.
“I like to say I’d like to put the culture back in horticulture,” said Benepe.
One tip: If you have a meeting planned with Adrian Benepe at the garden, you might want to wear comfortable shoes—he prefers walks for meetings.
"It's something I actually used to do at the Parks Department. If I had a one-on-one meeting, I would say, ‘Let's go for a walk,’ particularly if there is some tension in the air."
Yes, the garden seems to be a pretty good cure for tension, much needed by New Yorkers these days.
"This is a crucial time for places like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to provide that respite, that dose of beauty, a place to walk around and get healthy, and to be safely outdoors and enjoy nature,” said Benepe, who emphasized that he's been very lucky to spend his entire career working on parks, open space and nature, and now he gets to do it again.