SPRINGTIME IN NEW YORK
By Allan Seiden
Springtime and autumn are New York City at its best, free of the hot and cold that make summer and winter a challenge.
For me, a nature-loving kid growing up on the outskirts of the city, spring was a time of miracles, when stark tree limbs, having weathered yet another winter, were transformed, water and sunlight reborn in an infinite abundance of green leaves. Spring also meant a stunning debut of flowers, starting with crocus emerging from the warming brownsoil earth, followed by a colorful array of daffodils, iris, azalea,
rhododendron, lilacs, wisteria and roses, each scenting the air in its turn.
But this reverie has a purpose, for despite living in a place where flowers abound year-round, I still try to time a visit to New York for springtime, reconnecting to my urban origins, visiting family and friends, and mixing culture with the beauty of springtime in my long ago hometown.
Central Park in springtime is a quintessential New York experience. New York’s iconic playground is an 884-acre preserve, built with exceptional civic foresight in 1858 when this was still the wilds north of the city. Today, it is a quiet retreat from all that is urban. A springtime walk in the park, anytime from mid-April through mid-June, includes beds of iris, tulip and daffodils, with flowering dogwood,
crabapple, cherry, and wisteria in bloom overhead, heady fragrances accompanying ever-changing views of New York’s dynamic skyline. Nothing smoothes New York’s sharp angularity better than Central Park.
Head to Fifth Avenue and 105th St. (just uptown from the Guggenheim, the Met, the Whitney (until it moves
downtown to the Highline) , the Frick, and other museums) to the Conservatory Garden, a trio of gardens, in fact that along with the azalea-flanked Bethesda Fountain, is Central Park at its springtime Victorian best. Tulips take center stage in the French Garden, with fragrant pink-and-white crabapple, delicate petals fluttering in the breeze, vignetting the fountains of the
Italian Garden, while the Burnett Fountain is the focal point of the English Garden, with promenades overhung by magnolia and fragrant Japanese lilac trees.
Since 1980, the citizen-led, non-profit Central Park Conservancy has worked in an on-going effort to restore the Park’s landmarks and grounds. Check their calendar for special events at www.centralparknyc.org.
New York Botanical Garden (NYBG)
This 250-acre botanical refuge (about 75 acres larger than Kapi’olani Park) is all the more remarkable for the gritty, urbanized landscape that surrounds it. It’s even more remarkable in springtime,
when the 50-acre parcel of old growth forest, the largest remnant of the original forest that once covered all of New York City, come to life, towering trees creating a stained glass canopy of greens.
The Bronx River flows through it complete with canyon, rapids, landmark stone mill, and the sights, sounds and fragrance of a springtime.
The rest of the acreage is equally impressive, with a leisurely flow of gardens beautifully integrated into the landscape. NYBG’s conspicuously Victorian Haupt Conservatory is one of the reasons the NYBG was made a National Historic Landmark in 1967, Islanders with a need to reconnect to the tropics can take in the Conservatory’s collection of tropicals and exotics.
Outside it’s temperate flowers that are in bloom, meaning iris and peonies, lilacs and dogwood, azalea, rhododendron, and the roses in the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden.
When it peaks, which is likely by early May, tens of thousands of roses in colors familiar and unusual are in full bloom.
If the weather’s hot, take a cool-off break in the beautiful, quality-stocked botanical gift shop and bookstore by the main entrance. The adjacent restaurant offers casual lunch options. All this comes at a price, with general admission $20, with an additional $12 to park.
Getting there by car is the best option. A taxi to Manhattan will set you back about $ 30. Public transport isvia the Metro-North Harlem local line to Botanical Garden Station. For a look at special events and exhibits visit www.nybg.org.
Located in Fort Tryon Park, on a hilltop overlooking the Hudson River at the very northern end of Manhattan, this often over-looked, yet remarkable division of the Metropolitan Museum highlights the Met’s extensive Medieval European holdings. Give yourself an hour to wander the past in a building composed of architectural elements from 12th – 15th century Europe. Panoramic views take in the greening Palisades, protected parklands that lie across the mile-wide Hudson River. Ft. Tryon Park’s green lawns and tall trees provide The Cloisters with an unexpectedly authentic sense of place. After viewing leave some time for a walk through The Cloisters’ three gardens, planted with herbs and vegetables suited to medieval times when gardens were a part of self-sufficient cloisters and monasteries. The gardens, river views and the tall trees on the rolling terrain of Ft. Tryon Park are particularly vibrant in spring
To get there by subway, take the IRT to the Dyckman Street (200 St.) stop. For information on special exhibits and events visit www.metmuseum.org/cloisters.
The High Line
This wonderful transformation of a rail spur brilliantly morphed into an elevated park, is urban recycling at its most inventive. Running uptown along 10th Ave. from 14th through 21st (with an extension to 34th Street in the works), High Line has transformed what was once New York’s meat packing district into a lively Manhattan destination. The Chelsea Market below the High Line at 14th street, has a browsable mix of shops and eateries. Springtime draws crowds to High Line, which only adds to its people watching appeal.
Spring in New York can mean rain and wintry temperatures, although by May and early June, skies are more likely to be clear, with temperatures hinting of summer. In terms of flowers, spring extends 10-12 weeks, starting in March, when a return to winter is still a threat, and ending in mid-June when summer takes over. Typically, budding trees make a debut by early April,
with azalea and rhododendron in vibrant display soon after. The first spring flowers appear as early as late March, with mid-May great for roses, June for lilacs. Weather being anything but predictable, peak bloom times vary year-to-year.
Easiest connection from Honolulu to NYC is on Continental (800-523-3273, continentalairlines.com), which takes about 10 hours, landing at Newark. It is the only non-stop to New York from Hawaii. Taxis from Newark Airport to the city are pricey…up to $75, with the fast Air Train bringing you to Penn Station for $11.55. Several companies also offer convenient, inexpensive ($15-$20) bus links to a number of Manhattan locations. Questions or comments? Please contact me at email@example.com.
Pictures and text © Allan Seiden, 2011