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.
Gardening. It’s the ultimate added-value pastime.
Not only do you get fresh air, exercise and Vitamin D when you weed, plant and prattle around in the soil but you also get hyperlocal produce for dinner! Afterall, it was plucked from your garden, patio or even windowsill.
It doesn’t get much more regional than that, folks!
I’ve been an avid gardener for probably thirty years now and I continue to be amazed at how a simple little seed can ultimately work its way through the soil and onto my dinner plate a few months later.
Even if you think you don’t have a green thumb or a sprawling yard, seriously consider growing something. Think about what vegetables you enjoy, do a little planning and give it a shot.
Chives or parsley can be “planted” on a sunny windowsill. Mini lettuces can be sown in patio planters or in small spaces in the garden. Even tomatoes, such as Tom Thumb and Stupice, which are great for small gardens, can produce prolifically in a pot and taste great in a salad.
Need some inspiration? Here are a couple of my favorite resources for sowing the seeds of dinner!
Seed Racks at the Garden Center or Grocery Store
Don’t snarf at the seed racks in the big box stores. The seeds are well priced and the displays have a great variety. You can also score a deal by using coupons and the varieties featured are usually pretty easy to grow. Read the sowing instructions and give it a shot. I regularly buy Burpee and Ed Hume from the racks at my Fred Meyer. What do I purchase? Zinnias, lettuces, chards, herbs, cosmos, sunflowers and more. Want a small space variety? Look for the little container icon on the Burpee packets. It’s a great indicator of which ones will work well in a mini-plot.
Order some seed catalogs and read them on a rainy day. They make great wish books. I circle and mark mine up and then order. I have found some great small space varieties at both Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine and at Territorial Seed Catalog in Oregon. My insider tip? When in doubt, call the customer service folks at these companies. They are incredibly knowledgeable and have steered me in the right direction many times.