By Meg A. Parsont
After the cherry tree and crabapple blossoms have given way to foliage and the flamboyant tulips have faded, it’s hard to imagine what Mother Nature could possibly do for an encore. But as we enter full-blown spring (finally!), there are plenty of new arrivals—some showy, like the stately horse chestnut trees in Central and Riverside Parks with their massive white clusters of flowers, and some more subtle, like the delicate lily of the valley that has made an appearance this week in our community gardens.
The air is noticeably sweeter as you approach the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park. The lilac bush by the gate of the octagon is at its most fragrant, and its scent blends beautifully with the lily of the valley and some brand-new roses that have just bloomed this week. The linden trees in the park and lining Riverside Drive are also on the verge of bursting into bloom, when their pale yellow flowers will fill the air with their honeyed perfume.
In the 91st Street Garden, the peony bushes are peppered with buds waiting to explode, the roses have begun their long season of blooming, and the bearded irises are beginning to make an appearance. We often think of irises as being purple—and many are—but irises grow in a surprising range of colors, and there are several along the western edge of the garden that are a unique coppery orange with streaks of yellow on the petals.
The purple and mauve bearded irises will be blooming any day now, but meanwhile, for anyone craving a burst of purple, be sure to look for the vibrant climbing clematis plants near the gate to the rectangle portion of the garden. And for another blast of color, the fuchsia and light coral-colored azaleas in the octagon are at their peak right now.
As you walk up the steps to the Lotus Garden, the fresh scents of lilacs and lily of the valley permeate the air, enhancing the Garden of Eden feeling of this green space perched over a parking garage on 97th Street. Purple bearded irises and both purple and white allium (Mt. Everest allium) are blooming, along with patches of bluebells.
There are also some lovely early roses including a pale pink one called Jeanne Lejoie. The gardener who tends the plot where this rose grows says it’s actually a miniature rose, although it can grow to be quite tall! It’s been in the garden since the garden was founded in 1983.
Fun floral Fact: With a single globe-like flower that can reach more than three or four inches in diameter perched on top of a stem that towers over most other plants in the garden, it’s hard to imagine the allium is a close relative of the humble onion!
The foliage in our community gardens is just as beautiful as the flowers themselves. In the Lotus Garden, the leaves of toad lily, various varieties of hosta, Japanese fern, and astilbe—many of which will be flowering later in the season— combine to create a stunning patchwork of colors and textures.
And in the West Side Community Garden, the amethyst-colored leaves of an oxalis (a common houseplant that’s also a perennial in the garden) provide a welcome splash of color.
This is a time of transition in the West Side Community Garden as their gardeners clear out approximately 12,000 tulip bulbs (which they give away or compost) to make room for the next wave of perennials and annuals.
Among the perennials now making an appearance are white bleeding hearts and aquilegia, a native plant which grows throughout the garden in a wide range of colors including deep purple, cream, orange with yellow, and two-toned purple and white. There’s also an elegant peachy-orange calla lily in one of the plant beds towards the fence that’s not to be missed.
A cluster of mauve and velvety burgundy bearded irises stands tall toward the back of the garden. And cascading over the trellis on the path heading to the 90th Street entrance, the aptly-named beauty bush is in peak bloom right now. Unlike the mauve-colored hellebore, which started blooming in March and is still going strong, the beauty bush only blooms for a few weeks. During that time, the bench under the trellis is the best seat in the house!
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 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