Because NYC is my homeland.... allow me to tell you about an amazing natural area that every gardener and horticulturist really should visit.

There's the popular misconception that the 843 acres of Central Park are the last remaining natural land in Manhattan. 
It is a green sanctuary within a huge, busy and noisy metropolis, but this urban park is entirely man-made.

The Conservatory Garden is Central Park’s formal garden. The Central Park Conservancy was founded in 1980, and is a private, nonprofit park conservancy that manages Central Park under a contract with the City of New York and NYC Parks. Showcasing gardens on 6 acres of amazing, tranquil beauty, in the upper east and west sides of  NYC.  The Garden itself opened in 1937, and is named for the glass conservatory that was built at this location in 1899. Before that, the garden housed the large greenhouse used for growing the plants for the Park’s landscapes.

Central Park is home to approximately 18,000 trees. The garden is famous for plantings of tulips, lilacs, crabapple trees, summer perennials, and fall chrysanthemums. As a child growing up in NYC in the 60's, Central Park was my favorite destination and refuge on a Sunday (The Museum of Natural History was my second favorite).  I had many picnics in the Park as a child, and I enjoyed them while sitting atop one of the Park's many big boulders. The noises and smells of the city miraculously vanished.If you ever find yourself in The Big Apple, be sure to visit the park's conservatory. Better yet, plan a weekend in the city, and be sure to visit the Park and museums while you're there. You'll need good walking shoes and a few hours. All day, if you're visiting the entire park. It's very easy to get to from any part of the city.

Don't Miss Strawberry Fields 

- I visit and pay my respects to John Lennon every time i visit the Park. It's located on Central Park West at West 72nd Street, near where John Lennon was murdered outside of his home, the Dakota. The memorial is a triangular piece of land falling away on the two sides of the park, and its focal point is a circular pathway mosaic of inlaid stones, with a single word, the title of Lennon's most famous song "Imagine". The mosaic, is in the style of Portuguese pavement. It was created by Italian craftsmen and was donated as a gift by the Italian city of Naples.

A "floral border" surrounds Strawberry Fields. Along the borders of the area surrounding the mosaic are benches which are endowed in memory of  individuals and are maintained by the Central Park Conservancy. Along a path, a plaque lists the nations that contributed to building the memorial. Yoko Ono, who still lives in The Dakota, contributed over a million dollars for the landscaping and the upkeep endowment.

The mosaics at the heart of a series of open and secret glades of lawn and glacier-carved rock outcroppings, bounded by shrubs and mature trees and woodland slopes, are all designated a "quiet zone". A woodland walk winds through edge plantings between the glade-like upper lawn and the steep wooded slopes; it contains native rhododendrons and hollies, Carolina allspice, mountain laurel, viburnums, and jetbead. 

Wild shrub roses and a mature pink Magnolias flank the main walk. At the farthest northern tip of the upper series of lawns enclosed by woodland are three dawn redwood trees that lose their needles, but regain them every spring, an emblem of eternal renewal. The trees can be expected to reach a height of 118 ft. within 100 years, and eventually they will be visible from great distances in the park. 

The Conservatory Garden is composed of three areas, each with a distinct design: the French-style North Garden, the Italianate Center Garden, and the English-style South Garden. 

The main entrance to the gardens is marked by an ornate, wrought iron gate, known as the Vanderbilt Gate, which was donated to the City by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, from the mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

Through the gate is the Center Garden, influenced by Italian Renaissance gardens. Its symmetrical design features a central lawn with a single jet fountain, behind which is a semicircular pergola covered in wisteria.  Beyond the fountain, walk up stone steps on either side to find the curved pergola, made of wrought iron and lined with benches that provide a beautiful view toward Fifth Avenue. The stone walkway includes medallions inscribed with the names of the original 13 states. In early May, the wisteria perfumes the air with it's beautiful purple bloom. The lawn is bordered by yew hedges and flanked with allées of crabapple trees, which burst into pink and white blooms every spring.

The North Garden offers spectacular seasonal displays of tulips each spring and Korean chrysanthemums in autumn. At its center stands the Untermyer Fountain, featuring the Three Dancing Maidens by German sculptor Walter Schott, which is surrounded by an intricate French parterre garden. A French parterre is a formal garden with low intricate plantings, divided by footpaths, and surrounded by walls of English ivy. It is designed to capture the feel of a small formal garden of the eighteenth century. Photo below is an example of that garden style.

The South Garden is arranged in planting beds in the style of an English perennial garden. It contains a diverse array of plantings that bring interest and beauty to every season, including bulbs, annuals, perennials, and numerous flowering trees. This garden also features the Burnett Fountain, that stands at one end of a waterlily pool.

The East Meadow Tree Walk - dozens of species of trees, each with a unique identity. Signs on tree trunks or nearby on the ground help visitors identify the various trees along the path, giving walkers the opportunity to learn something new, while they enjoy the walk towards the Park’s only formal garden. That walk would take you approximately an hour. 

More than 150 different annual cultivars will bloom through mid-October in the South and North Gardens. Plantings include the princess flower, a tropical shrub with large, fuzzy silver-green leaves and royal purple flowers; and ornamental and hybrid sages in a rainbow of colors.

In the South Garden, there are several perennials, including the balloon flower, phlox in pink and white; ornamental grasses; Japanese anemones and, native flowers such as coneflower and Joe-Pye weed are the main attractants of butterflies and other pollinators. Also in the South Garden is Burnett Fountain, with a pool featuring a variety of summer-blooming waterlilies in pink, blue, and green. Bright pink crape myrtle surround the Fountain. There are also colorful hydrangeas and roses throughout the South Garden.

The Shakespeare Garden
-see the large photo at the top of this page...

Shakespeare Garden is a four-acre landscape named for William Shakespeare. It features more than 100 plants mentioned in Shakespeare's works. The Garden is just steps away from the Delacorte Theater, home to Shakespeare in the Park, a New York City summer tradition. To learn how to design your own version of a Shakespearean/Elizabethan Garden, visit this page-->

In August and September, you can see lilies, phlox, hibiscus, asters, roses, cyclamens, and dozens of other flowers in a variety of colors. You'll see trumpet creeper, a vine with bright red or orange tube-like flowers that attract hummingbirds. The middle of the Garden blooms with white flowers of the sweet autumn clematis on the bamboo fence. Its fragrance fills the entire garden. The garden also includes 10 small bronze plaques that feature Shakespearean quotes.

Dene Slope meadow

Fairly new in the Conservatory. Its name, an English word for “valley” amid dramatic rock outcrops that are popular among Park visitors for climbing and exploring. The Dene Slope, located along a steep hill on the west side of the landscape known as the Dene, and the meadow is one of the area’s most prominent features. The Central Park Conservancy has planted more than 50 species of native wildflowers and grasses here, and the landscape serves as a habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife. A trail provides access to the slope and rustic seating. The meadow was completed in 2017 and t took many years to establish.

Nell Singer Lilac Walk

Along the north edge of the Sheep Meadow, a narrow path winds through a small grove of lilac trees with varieties from all over the world. Typically in bloom from late April through June.

The North Meadow Butterfly Gardens

These gardens provide habitat for the more than 50 species of butterflies that pass through Central Park. Established in 2000, the four large planting beds feature two species of milkweed (essential to caterpillars and butterflies at all stages of life) and colorful and fragrant plant life that supports moth, insect, and bird populations from spring through first frost. The garden provides an opportunity for gardeners to study the flora that attracts these pollinators. Plants are chosen for their value as a food source, and as hosts for reproduction. Many are nectar-producing perennials that bloom all season long.

The Great Monarch Butterfly Migration

Departing Manhattan, monarch butterflies head south to Mexico each winter and return to Manhattan in early March. Almost half a million monarchs head to Mexico to overwinter before their spring return. This phenomenon, known as the great monarch butterfly migration, starts in the lush meadows and woodlands of Central Park.

Before winter sets in, monarch butterflies leave Central Park for the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Preserve in central Mexico. After a 3,000-mile, two-month long journey, these monarchs ultimately make their home in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine-oak forests, clustering on branches of pine and the sacred oyamel trees. As spring approaches, monarchs come out of their hibernation, and mate before a remarkable, multi-generational migration north.

The first group of monarchs leaving Mexico stops to lay eggs on their journey back before they die; those eggs then develop into the next generation that continues north, repeating the same cycle. Four generations of monarchs are born and die over their spring return to North America. That fascinates me.

From spring through the end of fall, areas like the Dene Slope, North Meadow Butterfly Gardens, and Hallett Nature Sanctuary are filled with blooms that provide nectar to fuel adult monarchs for their journey.

The summer months spent in the Park are essential, as monarchs conduct the important work of pollination. An essential evolutionary process, pollination is largely dependent on the birds, bats, bees, and butterflies. By moving the pollen that fertilizes plants and creates seeds, pollinators ensure the next generations of plant life that keep the Park in bloom, improving the environmental health and happiness of New Yorkers. The Park is a bright green patch in the middle of the City, which means butterflies and other wildlife depend on it as a crucial  stop to eat, lay eggs, and rest between migration journeys. Read about growing a garden to protect the Monarch Butterfly.

In the fall, many of Central Park’s roughly 18,000 trees turn vibrant shades of yellow, orange, red. It’s one of the Park’s most photogenic times of year.  Central Park's unique fall foliage displays are due to the days become shorter, th trees will detect the oncoming winter not necessarily by colder temperatures, but by the angle at which the rising and setting sun hits their leaves. This has a special effect on Central Park's trees, which are often obscured by many shadows from surrounding buildings.  As a result of the light and temperature gradient, the trees often have a distorted sense of the seasons. Central Park frequently experiences a later foliage turn than other parts of New York.

Colorful black cherry, sawtooth oak, gray birch, and tupelo can be seen at the Pond and in the Hallett Nature Sanctuary. Hallet is the smallest of the Park’s woodlands. Rustic features, such as a scenic overlook, railings, and benches, that provide meditation spots and breathtaking views of the Pond and south end of the Park.

The Mall is one of Central Park’s most significant landscapes and horticultural wonder. 
The Mall is the Park’s only intentional straight line. It features a quadruple row of American elms, and is home to one of the largest and last remaining stands of these trees in North America. American elms form a cathedral-like canopy above this wide pedestrian path, and in the fall, that canopy will be bright yellow.

It is known as Literary Walk because of the numerous statues of writers added there in the 19th century. The Park was designed as a social space. It was intended as a place for all New Yorkers, regardless of class or background, and the Mall was where they could all come together to enjoy nature, art, and culture. 

The Reservoir

On one side of  the Reservoir, you’ll find the Kwanzan cherry trees, which turn bronze and red in the fall. On the opposite side, you’ll see the yoshino cherry trees, which become yellow in the fall, and features a sharply contrasting bark.

Visit the Ramble for a dense explosion of color in fall. The Park’s most popular woodland features colors of the red oak, sweet gum, pin oak, sassafras, and more. The beautiful three-stemmed black tupelo can be seen in Tupelo Meadow, which is north of Azalea Pond.


If you're planning a visit in the fall:

Download the official fall foliage map. It tells you what trees (and colors) to find in Park locations. Conservancy guides also lead Fall Foliage Walks from the Pool through the North Woods’ Ravine.

While in NYC, you should also pay a visit to The Cloisters - and the beautiful medieval monastic gardens.



Central Park Conservatory
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