Reprinted with permission from the West Side Rag, April 22, 2002. All copyrights reserved.
Design Impression tulips in West Side Community Garden, photo by Meg Parsont.
By Meg A. Parsont
Friday, April 22 is Earth Day, and the perfect time (well, it’s always the perfect time!) to explore some of NYC’s many community gardens and green spaces. As I walked around the Upper West Side today, I saw begonias and pansies planted in tree pits, red and pink geraniums in window boxes, and crabapple trees in full profusion in Riverside Park. This is also prime tulip time, and the Upper West Side has some of the most stunning tulip displays in the city.
Tulips in West Side Community Garden, photo by Meg Parsont.
Every year, droves of nature lovers make a pilgrimage to the West Side Community Garden, which is known for its annual Tulip Festival (happening now through the first week of May, or so). The festival warrants multiple visits, since new varieties come into bloom every few days while others fade. As I stood in the entrance to the garden earlier this week blissfully taking in the remarkable variety of tulips, I overheard another visitor rave to her friend, “All of this in New York City. Who woulda thunk it?!”
Margarita tulips in West Side Community Garden, photo by Meg Parsont.
From vibrant red and yellow blooms called “Keizerskroon,” which means “Emperor’s Crown” in Dutch, to delicate pale orange tulips called “Apricot Beauty” to the full, fuchsia-colored “Margarita” which resembles a peony when it opens, the tulips in the West Side Community Garden are a veritable feast for the eyes.
Grape hyacinth in West Side Community Garden, photo by Meg Parsont.
One small but mighty flower that holds its own among the tulips is the grape hyacinth (muscari) that is in bloom now. You’ll see its electric purple blooms—which resemble petite bunches of grapes—along the borders of some of the flower beds. Interestingly, grape hyacinths aren’t actually related to true hyacinths.
Fun Floral Fact
Contrary to popular belief, tulips didn’t originate in Holland! They originally grew wild in Central Asia, and in the Middle Ages were brought to what is now Turkey, where they were cultivated. The word “tulip” is derived from the Persian word for “turban.” By the late sixteenth century, tulips finally reached the Netherlands, where they were such a novelty and in such high demand that they stirred up “Tulip Mania,” with prices skyrocketing as people bought and sold tulip bulbs.
Tulips and daffodils, 91st Street Garden, photo by Meg Parsont.
Tulips are also flourishing right now in both the Lotus Garden and The 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park. In the 91st Street Garden, the daffodils are still going strong, their yellow blooms contrasting beautifully with the bright red tulips that have been planted in recent years in many of the plots, as well as a number of other tulip varieties.
Ranunculus, 91st Street Garden, photo by Meg Parsont.
Other perennials are also beginning to make an appearance in the 91st Street Garden, including a lovely patch of light blue-purple Virginia bluebells (Longwood Blue) by the gate to the rectangle section of the garden. In the plot next to the bluebells, be sure to look for several small clusters of double-ruffled ranunculus blooms in both white and vibrant enamel yellow.
Fritillaria in Lotus Garden, photo by Shanna Forlano.
Perched over a parking garage on 97th Street, the Lotus Garden is an urban Garden of Eden. It’s home to a number of plants that aren’t commonly seen in the city, in addition to some glorious tulips. Look for purple-speckled fritillaria and delicate light purple violas, which are blooming now.
Japanese Jack in Pulpit in Lotus Garden, photo by Shanna Forlano.
Also keep an eye out for a cluster of about a dozen funky-looking brown spikes growing out of the soil. Be sure to check back in on them in a few weeks. They may look like something out of a Dr. Seuss story, but they’ll grow into a huge Japanese Jack in the Pulpit!
Bonnie Mitelman, a visitor to the 91st Street Garden, observed of some of the less showy flowers that are starting to make an appearance, “It’s as if they’re saying ‘We’re here and we’re trying the best we can. We may not be able to blow it out of the water like the tulips, but we’re still part of it.’” She went on to reflect, “It says a lot about where we are now, too. And it’s so important to come to the garden, look at the beauty, and be grateful.” Very fitting for Earth Day—and beyond.
Violas in Lotus Garden, photo by Shanna Forlano.
Plan a visit:
West Side Community Garden (89-90th Streets, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues) Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk Note: Tulip Festival Information Days are on April 23-24, when garden members will be present from 10 am-6 pm to answer questions.
The Lotus Garden (97th Street between West End Avenue and Broadway) Open to the public on Sunday afternoons between 1-4 pm, from April 10-mid-November
The 91st Street Garden on the Promenade level of Riverside Park Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk, near the Hippo Playground
Cherry blossom season on the Upper West Side. Photograph by Meg Parsont.
By Meg Parsont
After what has felt like an endless winter in so many ways, spring is finally upon us! The magnolia trees are getting ready to burst into bloom in the islands dividing Broadway, groves of cherry trees have graced us with their presence in Central and Riverside Parks, and daffodils are everywhere.
I help tend the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park (aka The Garden People Garden or the “You’ve Got Mail” Garden), and my fellow gardeners and I have noticed that visitors have become much more connected to the garden over the past couple of years. Whether it’s because people are working from home and have more time to visit or because they are seeking a natural sanctuary, our green spaces play an essential role in our community.
Judy Robinson, President of the West Side Community Garden, reflects that “People are especially grateful for the garden now, in response to Covid restrictions over the past two years. We’re all longing for the chance to relax, feel comfortable, and be surrounded by beauty.”
Louise Kindley, Membership Chair of the Lotus Garden on 97th Street, receives notes from community members expressing their gratitude for this quiet, peaceful place. She says, “My guess is that the pandemic has made people more aware of the need to quite literally ‘stop and smell the roses.’”
So many visitors to our gardens ask, “What’s new in the garden?” This bi-weekly column will provide a glimpse into what’s happening now in the Lotus Garden, the West Side Community Garden, and the 91st Street Garden. Mother Nature can be unpredictable, but we’ll try to focus on what’s in or approaching peak bloom. There are other lovely pockets of green throughout the Upper West Side, so be sure to check them out, too.
Daffodils in 91st Street Garden. Photograph by Meg Parsont.
For many of us, the arrival of daffodils is the first sign of spring, and we have hosts of golden daffodils (with thanks to William Wordsworth!) in all three community gardens, as well as daffodils with deep orange centers and delicate pale yellow blooms.
Rock garden in 91st Street Garden. Photograph by Meg Parsont.
The rock garden plot in the rectangle portion of the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park has some lovely miniature daffodils nestled among purple Siberian Squill.
Fun Floral Fact:
What’s the difference between daffodils, jonquils, and Narcissus?
• Daffodils and jonquils all fall under the botanical name of Narcissus.
• The foliage of daffodils is spear-shaped while the foliage of jonquils is rounded.
• Jonquils tend to grow in warmer regions
What play by an American playwright refers to jonquils?
(Answer will appear in our next column on April 22)
Hellebore in 91st Street Garden. Photograph by Meg Parsont.
Other flowers bloom before daffodils as the true harbingers of spring, but they are often less familiar. Hellebore or Lenten rose typically appears in late winter at a time when we most need a reminder that spring is truly on the way! It has a wonderfully long season, and is flourishing now in all three community gardens in varying shades of white, mauve, and raspberry. Look for hellebore in groupings fairly low to the ground.
Dwarf Irises in Lotus Garden. Photograph by Shanna Forlano.
Another early bloomer is the dwarf iris, which has the classic markings and vibrant coloration of its more statuesque cousin, only in miniature. The Lotus Garden is home to a lovely patch of these beauties, known by the grand name of Iris Reticulata Katharine Hodgkin.
Elderberries in Lotus Garden. Photograph by Shanna Forlano.
The Lotus Garden also has some flowering shrubs we don’t often see in the city, including an elderberry bush that, as far as their gardeners know, has never fruited—at least not yet!
The West Side Community Garden is known for its spectacular array of tulips, and while the majority of them will be blooming starting in mid-April, keep an eye out for early bloomers now. In a few weeks, the Lotus Garden and the 91st Street Community Garden will have a generous display of tulips, as well.
Photographs by Meg Parsont.
The West Side Community Garden is also home to several cherry trees that are in full bloom now, and to the pink perennial herbaceous plant Corydalis (below), which you will find in a bed near the northernmost cherry tree.
Corydalis in West Side Community Garden. Photograph by Meg Parsont.
In the 91st Street Community Garden, be sure to look for low mounds of magenta heather, pink creeping phlox, and other subtle yet colorful signs that spring has finally arrived!
Plan a Visit:
The West Side Community Garden (89-90th Streets, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues)
Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk
The Lotus Garden (97th Street between West End Avenue and Broadway)
Open to the public on Sunday afternoon, between 1-4 p.m., from April 10-mid November
The 91st Street Garden on the Promenade level of Riverside Park, just west of the Hippo Playground, Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk
Reprinted with permission from the West Side Rag
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