Gardens in New York City? Can they really offer a respite from the urban jungle and the endless horn honking?
These were the questions I posed to myself when I was in New York City for four days last month. I was attending the Annual Conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and was also visiting my daughter who just moved to Manhattan.
With a little advance planning and a razor-focused gameplan, we managed to visit three gorgeous gardens–The Gardens at the Met Cloisters, the Heather Garden in nearby Fort Tryon Park, and the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. All of the gardens were magnificent, inspiring and restorative. Here’s the recap:
The Gardens at the Met Cloisters
Located in Washington Heights in Fort Tryon Park, The Met Cloisters is the ultimate respite. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the Hudson, the historic Romanesque and Gothic cloisters are naturally inspiring in and of themselves, but for me, it was the medieval courtyard gardens that hit home. My daughter and I went early on a Sunday morning and the four gardens–the Judy Black Garden, the Herb Garden, the Trie Cloister Garden and the Orchard, were in full swing. There are garden tours at 11 am each day but unfortunately when we got there the couple in front of us snagged the last two spots for the day so we had to explore on our own.
Of the four gardens, the Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden was my favorite…for obvious reasons. As an avid cook, food writer and gardener, I love growing edibles and the Herb Garden was deliciously inspiring. Boasting scenic views of the river below, the garden was segmented into quadrants of culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, and vegetables. Fruit trees were situated throughout the plantings. Large terracotta pots were planted with olive trees, rosemary and other tender plants. Church bells rang from above and sparrows flittered about amongst the plantings. The plants were all carefully labeled and insights as to how they were used in the Middle Ages were noted.
The Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park
After the Cloisters, we decided to hunt down another Secret Garden. I had read something that alluded to a beautiful garden near The Cloisters but I couldn’t remember where it was so I started asking the staff at the Cloisters. No one seemed to know so I eventually had to go to the museum’s information booth and ask about “that nice garden nearby.” One informed gentleman in a back office heard my query, came forth, and then went off to another office to pull out a little brochure called The Heather Garden. He handed it to me and said, just go left down that way into the park. Ummm. Okay.
So, we trekked along, asked for a few more directions, trotted past the New Leaf Restaurant and eventually stumbled upon our secret destination!
Well, what a treasure! Fort Tryon Park was gifted to the City in 1935 by John D. Rockefeller Jr who then engaged the Olmsted Brothers, whose father designed Central Park, to design the park and the heather gardens. Over the decades the garden has had its ups and downs but in 2009 the Fort Tryon Park Trust reinvigorated the garden to what it is today…a multiacre all season garden boasting nearly 500 varieties of plants that attract flora and fauna such as birds, bees, and beneficial wildlife. When we were there, the garden was alive with blooms of bluebells, azaleas, iris, rhododendrons, peonies, salvia and more. Aside from enticing Crayola color scheme at hand, the city air was also perfumed with heady aromas from the flowers at hand.
The Central Park Conservatory Garden
The last garden on our list was the Central Park Conservatory Garden located in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue and 105th. An officially designated Quiet Zone, this six-acre formal garden was delightfully QUIET when we visited early on a sunny Monday morning. The main entrance is on Fifth Avenue and features the Vanderbilt Gate, a massive wrought iron structure made in Paris and originally from the Vanderbilt Mansion on 5th. The garden itself features three smaller gardens each with an Italianate, French and English influence. When we were there we had just missed some of the best blooms, such as the wisteria and the gorgeous tulips. That being said, the fountains and European sculptures made us feel as if we had landed in a beautiful garden somewhere in Europe.