Friday, June 3, 2011

Nutshells, Gardens, and New York City

A delivery van pulls up in front of a shop in New York's flower district.
A week has passed since my first visit to New York City. I drank in as many sights and sounds as I could in the span of three days there. Thinking back, most of those sights and sounds won't fit in any nutshell description I can conjure up. The city has always struck me from afar as a battleground of eccentricities- a place where people ravenous for art amusements, culinary enchantments, architectural diversions, or fashion fads can each be indulged. So naturally, I went expecting to get a little fuel for my own obsession: plants.

A refreshing green alley.
I hit the Flower District early in the morning to see the source that so many New Yorkers rely on for greenery. It wasn't hard to locate from a block or two away. The first sign that I had arrived was a flat of 10ft tall  palm trees chained together on the sidewalk, then an amazing variety of topiary, and then colorful protea, peonies, and roses on either side. At street level there were busy wholesale vendors laboring over deliveries, and overlooking the street I could see many windows scrolled over with names of florists. I walked a block and the greenery disappeared. Because of escalating real estate prices, this district is just a fragment of what it once was.

Wholesale selections of greenery.
As soon as I could, I made a pilgrimage to the well-known Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Beyond the admissions desk I found a pristine Japanese garden complete with a pagoda and plump koi fish. A hilltop woodland was parted by a path with mock-up Hollywood stars on it, featuring famous personalities of Brooklyn. This gave way to rolling lawns below, dotted by specimen shrub collections like olives and plums. The periphery of the lawns featured numerous pockets of theme gardens, and of course, the chain of glass conservatories I had seen in pictures.

Attempting to capture the conservatories.
Orchid roots suspended over an indoor walkway.

Heavy humidity began to snake through the gardens at mid-morning, followed by crowds of schoolchildren. I could tell that this was a much-anticipated field trip for them, and I chuckled when I realized I had this much in common with them. As a big fan of children's gardens myself, I had been just as happy to look through the discovery garden, eye out the school vegetable plots and peer up into the giant twig sculptures.

In the Discovery Garden, I found kid-sized sitting areas where they can sort samples from the miniature meadow, forest and farm demonstrations.

This twig sculpture was created specifically for the site by Patrick Dougherty.

This area contains handfuls of vegetable plots tended by local schoolchildren.

Walking back over the Brooklyn Bridge and through Manhattan, I saw gardens peeking out in all sorts of spaces. . .

A Greenwich Village flower box.
An front door display in Uptown.
Decadent pink hydrangeas
 It wasn't long before I realized that this was an extremely walkable city. Before I knew it, I had been walking for three days straight, from landmark to landmark! Many of the lawns and gardens I saw (including the Brooklyn Botanical Garden) were behind fences, even those in public areas. Could it be that NYC gardens are spaces of order and civility, while on the other side of the fence, the city itself is a vast wilderness? It certainly seemed that way at times.
Central Park is clearly the heart of the city. It's in the way people carry themselves there, under the century old trees and across the verdant lawns.

Tree elevations

Sophisticated rooftop gardens and sun rooms in the museum mile
Roses rival the skyline at Jefferson Market Garden.
 Central Park was thoroughly rejuvenating, but my second favorite greenspace was a mid-size garden in Greenwich Village called Jefferson Market Garden. It has history, rich variety of plants, and community involvement. On the day I visited, there were lots of familiar flower faces about, and people taking pause to look at them.

In my meanderings I hadn't done much shopping. Just before I left, I visited one of the eclectic vintage clothing shops near my hotel. Here was a very floral part of New York City, right under my nose! Floral prints, embroidered greenery and satin blooms bombarded me from every corner. Though the fabric flowers were charming, it was an understated pink vase from the 1950's that spoke the loudest to me. I carried it back home. I doubted that New York City could ever be described in a nutshell. . . though it could be described as a vessel itself. .  .

Vintage ornament-turned-flower-vessel
Three days was not enough! My plans for next visit include the New York Botanical Garden and greenspace along The High Line, among passels of other things.


  1. If I was in New York, I would start with the High Line. That fascinates me! I look forward to your next pictures too.

  2. Unfortunately I didn't find out about the High Line until after I left! It's one of the many morsels I'll have to save for next time.


If there's one thing better than visiting gardens, it's talking about them. . .thanks for joining the conversation!