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Ten Minutes with Todd Forrest – The Head of NY’s Botanical Garden

Todd Forrest oversees the New York Botanical Garden’s 250-acre site:
indoor and outdoor exhibitions, the 50-acre Thain Family Forest, 50 gardens and plant collections, conservatories, and more, managing the staff of 85. He started with NYBG in 1998 after completing a master’s at Yale School of Forestry. Forrest lives in Ridgefield with his wife, two sons, and daughter.

In some ways, is it a job like any other? I work, prepare budgets, deal with stress just like at many office jobs. The difference is that if I reach a boiling point, I have the New York Botanical Garden to step into. Its mission is the same in 2019 as in the late 1800s. To improve people’s lives through teaching and engaging about plants, beauty, and nature.

Are you in the garden daily? Yes. I could not work here—or anywhere—if a certain portion of my day was not spent in a beautifully designed and tended place.

Why should someone leave Ridgefield for NYBG? The garden here is one of the world’s most important conservation institutions. Most people know the exhibitions, but NYBG also has remarkable education programs that serve everyone from preschoolers to PhDs. If you have an amazing garden in Ridgefield and want to sharpen your skills, there are dozens of classes for you. If you want to learn to draw plants, you can do that here. Children can connect with nature in many ways here.

What exhibitions do you have coming up? Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx, a Brazilian artist, opened June 8 and runs through September. His wonderful works will be in our gallery, plus a series of performances by Brazilian folk artists, musicians, and dancers. It will be like leaving Ridgefield and going to Rio for the day.

How many people will attend it? Our summer exhibitions usually attract between 350,000 and 800,000 people.

Tell me about Thain Family Forest. At the heart of the 250 acres is this 50-acre old growth forest. It’s the reason the garden was established. Visitors can see first hand the grandeur of a mature forest.

How do you maintain it? We remove invasive species, maintain the trails so people don’t wander off trampling wildflowers. And we re-install native plants. The results are remarkable. The forest is dominated by native species unlike any other forest in the region. Birds, butterflies, and amphibious creatures thrive.

Do your kids visit the garden? Eliza our daughter is the most enthusiastic fan. My sons came more when they were younger. But recently I was thrilled when my older son asked if he could bring his girlfriend to the orchid show.

Do people ever try to steal or destroy plants? Ah, yes, the tragedy of the commons. One woman was discovered harvesting trimmings. Her response: Where am I going to get my plants now?

Did having the name Forrest help you get the job? It certainly didn’t hurt! People ask: “Did you change your name for the job?” And I say, “No, but I’m thinking of it.” 




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