I can’t think of a more perfect day trip in the spring than the New York Botanical Garden. It is a breeze of a drive down the Taconic to the Sprain Brook Parkway to the Bronx River Parkway (you never even have to change lanes)and there it is, on the edge of the Bronx River at Exit 7W,marked “Fordham Road/New York Botanical Garden”, with plenty of parking, and in a lovely part of the Bronx, which includes Fordham University and the Bronx Zoo.
I love the Financial Times of London quote about the garden: “However much you like the skyscrapers, remember that the city has at least one patch of excellence at ground level.”
Not only is it one of the most beautiful parts of the Bronx(yes, I know, not much competition), but it is also one of the most beautiful gardens in the USA, or maybe —-oh, never mind, you get the idea. Or maybe it was the clear sunny day. I will say that this beauty enveloped me, even though almost nothing was blooming. I took my English visitor there in late March, a bit early in the season.
It was so relaxing and yet invigorating to take a long walk around the paths through the trees, where we feasted our eyes on the early daffodils, hopped on the little train that encircles the garden, and listened to the guide tell us the history of the garden and the surrounding terrain.
The garden includes a Forest and the Bronx River Gorge, which is one of the few remaining tracts of natural, uncut woodland in New York City. This is a remarkable feat. Imagine that this area looks the same as it did when the Lenape Indians lived there! There are trails through the forest along which you can see the American beeches, red
oaks, cherry, birch, tulip and other trees, some of which are over 200 years old.
Speaking of trees, the alley of Tulip trees was spectacular even without the tell tale tulip shaped leaves. The stand of Tanyosho Pine, planted in 1908, is spectacular and immediately drew our attention with its unusual red brown bark. This grove of five mature pines is the most distinguished planting of this cultivar in North America. There are many other outstanding trees, worth a long slow look.
There are also many special gardens, which will cause me to go back very soon. Included are a Rock Garden, a Rose Garden, and a Conifer Arboretum.
There are indoor gardens too, the most notable of which must be the Orchid Terrarium, which contains the largest public collection of orchids in the northeast (over 5500plants.)
As luck would have it, the new spring display had just opened in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. This indoor Extravaganza should be viewed by anyone who smiles when they look at a flower. The current feature is an informal spring flower garden, meant to inspire gardeners with fresh ideas.
Sculpture from the Museum of Modern Art will be moved to and featured at the Botanical Garden throughout the summer. So, if you are missing the MOMA sculpture garden on West 54th street, you can view it here.
The garden shop is worth a trip in itself. You can get all your garden equipment and wardrobe here plus all sorts of garden related gifts. Garden and museum shops invariably have a wide range of prices, which always appeals to me. Their book section is deep in every sort of garden “how-to” and inspired garden writing volume.
The third arm of the average day trip, beyond destination and shopping, is, of course, lunch. Here the New York Botanical Garden is a hands-down winner. The restaurant has a very nice brick exterior, and inviting interior décor. It is however, a cafeteria. Ergo, I did not expect much, but was glad of a place to sit down for a bite. Imagine my elation when I bit into a packaged tuna fish sandwich and tasted ambrosia! Upon investigation, I discovered that the caterer for the café is none other than the renowned Abigail Kirsch. (She has been a favorite big-time professional caterer ever since she fed 600 people so incredibly well at the Vassar Hospital Benefit, but no one can ever replace Millbrook’s own Doreen Sepe). The food is imaginative, fresh, and oh, so tasty. Sort of reminded me of Doreen’s fare, as a matter of fact. There is a huge sunny outdoor terrace, surrounded by lovely plant beds, and trees, which I noticed caused undue lingering.
All year round, and especially from now through October, this is a great excursion. Don’t leave the kids home;there is lots for them to do, including the Meadow Maze, an Adventure Garden, and a Discovery Center. The New York Botanical Garden is a 250-acre National Historic Landmark, and like many other such fixtures, it’s right in our back yard.
Membership in the Botanical Garden is one of the great bargain discoveries of my year. For $40, two seniors have free admission to it, and to Wave Hill, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and many many more such green heavens, plus four free parking passes, 10 % discount at all Garden shops, free admission for 8 guests, access to their circulating library, a newsletter, and more. Oh, and I thought I’d just mention, only one of the adults has to be over 65.
Betsy Shequine is quite willing to admit her love for gardens and plants, but not quite ready to reveal her age.