Springtime in Central Park
While Central Park offers a welcome respite all year round from the surrounding cacophony of urban life, it is during the springtime that the park really sparkles. Starting at the middle of March, sometimes before the snows of winter have even completely disappeared, you can find snowdrops and crocuses poking up between the leaves and tree roots. These are soon followed by daffodils and tulips as the entire park erupts in a fragrant display of early flowering pastels. By mid April the Central Park landscape is awash in cherry blossoms and magnolia flowers that signal the completed transformation from dreary winter to spring celebration. Here is a countdown of my picks for the ten very best places in the park to view this amazing floral display.
10. Lilac Walk
One of the lesser known delights of Central Park is a pathway that runs along the north side of the Sheep Meadow to the Mineral Springs refreshment stand. It is the called the Lilac Walk and it is home to more than twenty varieties of purple, pink and white lilac blossoms from around the world. The selections includes the Dutch Syringa vulgaris as well as the Southeast European and American varieties. Hybrids from the United States and France have also been planted and all are skillfully and creatively presented by skilled gardeners to the delight of all who walk along this path. There are even varieties from Canada and China. When these lilacs blossom, their intense fragrance is quite demanding and few who pass this way can ignore the theater of aroma that envelops them. Created in 1970, the Lilac Walk was conceived and financed by philanthropist Nell Singer. It is bordered on the south by a fence which features the crawling vines of clematis and morning. By late spring the fragrance exuded by the purple, pink and white blossoms is almost intoxicating.
9. West side of the Reservoir
In Central Park, the Kwanzan Cherry blooms in early May, shortly after the Yoshino Cherry Trees, which are on the east side of the Reservoir. An ornamental cherry tree from Japan that is admired for its double-petal flowers and bright pink blossoms, it does not have the delicate appearance of the Yoshino, but it is still extremely attractive in its own strikingly colorful way. It also contributes a certain dramatic consistency to the scenic narrative of the Reservoir panorama. The cherry blossoms on the west side blossom almost immediately after the ones on the east side are gone. This extends the spring blooming season around the 106 acre body of water for another two weeks and gives visitors, especially the runners that use the surrounding track for training, almost an entire month to enjoy the spectacle of the delicately flowering trees.
8. The Pond
The Pond provides immediate relief from the hustle and bustle of the city just outside. This is due to a veritable wall of trees and shrubs, as well as the inspired landscaping of Olmsted and Vaux, which placed the pond below street level. This entrance was originally designed to handle most of the traffic into the park, and continues to do so until this day. In spring time it offers an even starker contrast as the park goer walks down the stairs and along the placid waters. Looking across you can see Gapstow Bridge and the surrounding shoreline, which features some of the earliest blooming seasonal arrivals. Crocuses, daffodils, foam flowers, forsythia, and tulips decorate the pathways and within seconds visitors are transported far away from Fifth Ave and Grand Army Plaza.
7. The Shakespeare Garden
Nestled between Belvedere Castle and The Swedish Cottage the garden first came into existence in 1913. Known as the Garden of the Heart it was patterned after Victorian era rock gardens. Then, in 1916, to celebrate the tercentennial of Shakespeare’s death, it was rechristened in honor of the Bard and only plants mentioned in his plays were planted there. These include columbine, primrose, wormwood, quince, lark’s heel, rue, eglantine, flax and cowslip, many of which sound as if they would be right at home boiling and bubbling in a cauldron. The spring blossoming varieties to be found here include crabapple, fritillaria, grape hyacinth (muscari), magnolia, quince, and tulips. The Shakespeare Garden is the perfect place to while away a timeless May afternoon.
6. The Azalea Walk
There is another little known gem hidden in the Central Park landscape that comes to life each spring. It is a short walkway just south of the Eaglevale Arch that features a delicate display of azaleas and rhododendrons. White, pink, orange and rose colored azaleas adorn this wood-chipped path, as it winds its way further south ending near Strawberry Fields. Recently restored, this woodland area is lined with benches that are nestled amongst the azaleas making it a wonderful place to spend a quiet moment of reflection. Azalea varieties range from the smooth azalea with white flowers, the Delaware Valley White, the Pinkster flowers, to the Swamp Azalea, also with white flowers. The Carolina Rhododendron adds pale rose flowers to the mix, as does the aptly-named Rosebay Rhododendron. Other spring time blooms include daffodils, leucojums, scilla, and shadbush.
5. The East side of the Reservoir
The Yoshino Cherry is the most common ornamental flowering cherry in Central Park and it can be found lining the east side of the Reservoir for several hundred yards. It is one of the first signs of spring in the park, with the flowers appearing in mid- to late-April well before any of the other flowering trees and shrubs nearby. There is always a magical span of a few days during which you can find the surrounding ground blanketed with pale pink flowers as each spring breeze brings another shower of feathery petals. Some of the older specimens of Yoshino Cherries along the east side of the Reservoir may be the original trees presented as a gift to the United States by Japan in 1912. This is truly one of the most beautiful spots in the park on a balmy May afternoon.
4. Conservatory Water
The area around the pond is home of some of the park’s loveliest foliage. These include Lebanon Cedars, willows, pine and beech trees. It also features the park’s largest display of spring blossoming Cherry Trees, besides the stands on either side of the reservoir. Other April blossoms include crabapples, daffodils, grape hyacinth (muscari), shadbush, and tulips. The surrounding benches are the perfect place for either a brief respite from your park sight-seeing tour or a more contemplative visit, relaxing while you watch the tiny white sails of model boats tacking against the breeze. Nearby you can also find two of the Park’s most popular statues, especially with children. At the northern end is the sculpture of Alice, of Wonderland fame, with all her favorite tea party playmates, and at the western edge a statue of master story teller Hans Christian Andersen. Conservatory Water is also the staging area for a dedicated group of bird watchers that have been tracking the life of Pale Male.
3. Strawberry Fields
Strawberry Fields opened on October 9, 1985, John’s 45th birthday. Every October 9th since then has seen an all day vigil of people of all ages from around the world; fans of his music and believers in his vision. The park was a favorite place for Lennon to take strolls with his family, with whom he lived in the Dakota Apartments, just across the street at 72nd and Central Park West. The gentle slope directly behind the memorial is called Rose Hill for the rambling roses in the clefts of the bedrock. The eastern slope is a woodland popular with bird-watchers. In its center is the woodland wildflower meadow filled with Ostrich and Christmas Ferns and Virginia Bluebells. In springtime it is populated with quince, scilla, shadbush and offers a beautifully secluded place to walk, just a few yards from the noisy city outside.
2. Wisteria Pergola
The Wisteria Pergola overlooks the north end of the Central Park Mall just short of 72nd Street and the Terrace Bridge. Olmsted and Vaux, the Park’s designers, were surely inspired when they placed this long latticed patio, 130 feet long by 25 feet wide, at this location in the Mall. The long crossbeams and many wooden supports are laced with wisteria vines and in the spring they bloom gloriously with delicate pale lavender flowers, which almost overwhelm the senses with their intoxicating aroma. Just a few yards to the east is the SummerStage concert area a performance venue used throughout the summer months. In the thirties it was the site of the Central Park Casino, the hottest nightclub in Central Park and the clubhouse of then Mayor Jimmy Walker. Though the view of the Mall is now obscured by the Bandshell it is still an enchanting place to stop for a rest or some peaceful contemplation.
1. Conservatory Garden
One of the hidden wonders of Central Park is the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th St. A secluded oasis, just a few steps down from one of the City’s busiest thoroughfares; the garden offers a fragrant respite from the gasp and clatter of the urban afternoon. The Conservatory Garden is filled with a myriad of plant life, from carefully cultivated heirloom roses to the most common of indigenous flowers, while portions of the grounds are delineated by hedges of English yew, barberry, Korean holly and the serendipitously named “Manhattan.” The Garden itself is divided into three distinct sections, each representing its own specific style. These are the north (or French Garden), the Central (or Italian Garden) and the south (or English Garden).
The southern garden features the English style and as such is much less formal than the other two. It is planted to be enjoyed the year round and almost every week there are new blooms to admire, but it is in the springtime that it really shines. At the center is a bronze sculpture, the Burnett Fountain, depicting a young boy and girl. Based on characters from The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett the fountain was designed and constructed in 1936 by Bessie Potter Vonnoh. It is surrounded by a reflecting pool upon which float hundreds of water lilies and in which swim dozens of extremely sophisticated goldfish (don’t forget the address). The surrounding spring blooms include brunnera, cornelian cherrys, crabapples, daffodils, forsythia, grape hyacinth, korean spice, magnolias, pansies, quince, summer snowflakes, tulips, virginia bluebells and witchhazel. It is this amazing diversity of flowers, along with the secluded tranquility of the grounds themselves that makes Conservatory Garden the very best place in Central Park to enjoy the blossoming splendor of springtime.
From winter strolls along the Mall to a sunset dinner for two at the Boathouse Restaurant, Central Park has always provided a wide choice of sites for a romantic rondevouz. Here are the the Top Ten we’ve chosen as the very best for Valentine’s Day.
10. The Pool
Placid waters rippling gently beneath gracefully weeping willows, velvety lawns stretching to the water’s edge, a quiet moment stolen from the temporally voracious metropolis outside: the Pool offers a contemplative landscape that almost aches to be shared. A modest picnic lunch leisurely eaten on a lazy summer afternoon with only a few dragonflies for company, the Pool can provide simple pleasures in an increasingly complex city. It is a rare location in the park that can offer even the possibility of solitude, but this mirror-surfaced pond, with its languid curves, has private space to spare. Perfect for a tryst, away from prying eyes and intrusive ears, the Pool can be the site of intimate idylls throughout the year.
9. Wollman Rink
It is cold. It is winter. It is New York. And if it is a clear night, it is hard to imagine a more romantic spot than Wollman Rink. In fact, it is hard to picture Wollman Rink as anything but a romantic spot after watching the movie “Serendipity.” Ice skating in Central Park is easily one of the most picturesque activities to be enjoyed on a winter’s night. Unlike the somewhat overwhelming confines of the Rockefeller Center rink, you can actually see stars at the Wollman rinks. As you take your partner’s hand, you can feel the cold tingle of New York’s crisp winter air, listen to the music, and take in the incomparable surroundings as you glide (gracefully or not so) around the rink. A romantic huddle over hot chocolate forms the perfect coda for the evening.
8. Conservatory Water
With sailboats gliding by in miniature regattas, Hans Christian Andersen reading to his friend the duckling and Alice holding court with the Cheshire Cat, Conservatory Water offers scenic accents both romantic and literary. Surrounded by a group of trees that survive from the original planting, the stately pond lends a sense of serenity to the urban activities being carried out a few yards away. On the western edge, you can usually find representatives of one of New York’s most dedicated fan clubs. They are the birdwatchers that chronicle events in the lives of one of the Upper Eastside’s most celebrated couples, Pale Male and Lola, a pair of red-tail hawks that nest on one of Manhattan’s classic apartment buildings on nearby 5th Ave. They are not the only lovebirds in the area, as the almost constant sight of couples strolling hand in hand will attest to.
7. Cherry Hill
Perched above the Lake, overlooking Bow Bridge and the Ramble, Cherry Hill is at the virtual center of the park, but still manages to remain relatively serene. Like a reclusive beauty who will only reveal herself to the dedicated suitor, scenic Cherry Hill can only be appreciated by those intrepid enough to take the short walk up the winding road that leads from Park Drive at 72nd St. At the center, you’ll find a beautiful fountain designed by Jacob Wrey Mould. It features a granite pool with a black and gilt cast-iron center construct, topped by eight round lamps and a golden spire. It is an elegant site that bespeaks a gentler, more refined era. A place where it would not seem at all strange find a Hansom carriage parked, awaiting you and your paramour for a leisurely journey, the long way home.
6. Shakespeare Garden
“Away before me to sweet beds of flowers. Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.”
– Count Orsino in Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene I
A fitting quote to introduce our next pick, one of Central Park’s hidden gems: the Shakespeare Garden. Nestled between Belvedere Castle and The Swedish Cottage, the Shakespeare Garden first came into existence in 1913. Known as the Garden of the Heart, it was patterned after Victorian era rock gardens. Then, in 1916, to celebrate the tercentennial of Shakespeare’s death, it was rechristened in honor of the Bard and only plants mentioned in his plays were planted there. These include columbine, primrose, wormwood, quince, lark’s heel, rue, eglantine, flax and cowslip, many of which sound as if they would be right at home boiling and bubbling in a cauldron. It is in the spring and early summer that the garden comes into its own, bursting with blooms and fragrant blossoms. The Shakespeare Garden also offers a variety of secluded rustic benches, perfect for the timeless art of canoodling.
5. Conservatory Garden
A tranquil oasis at the north end of the park, the Conservatory Garden offers dozens of fragrantly secluded corners and lush, leafy bowers to host an intimate tryst. The garden is divided into three sections: the English, Italian, and French. Each offers its own unique charm to the fragrant art of floricultural seduction. The French, or North Garden, is arranged concentrically around the Untermayer Fountain, whose pool is graced by Three Dancing Maidens, a beautiful statue executed in bronze by Walter Schott. The Italian, or Central Garden, features a beautiful lawn leading up to a lovely fountain. Above the fountain, there is a gorgeous wrought iron arbor that is grown over with Chinese Wisteria; it’s a lovely place for an out of the way stroll. The southernmost English Garden is probably the most popular of the three. Featuring beds of seasonally blooming flowers, it is always in season and at its center is a peaceful little pool that features the statue of a boy and girl. It is inspired by “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and was sculpted by Bessie Potter Vonnoh. The pool is covered with lily pads by mid-summer and the fragrant magnolia tree that stands nearby offers ample shade for a moment’s respite, and, perhaps, a few whispered phrases tickling your partner’s ear.
4. The Boathouse Restaurant
The Boathouse Restaurant looks south out over the Lake and past Bow Bridge, offering one of the most beautifully pastoral vistas in the park. Dozens of tables all offer spectacular views of Bethesda Terrace as well, with the beautiful Angel of the Waters statue center stage on the Fountain. Whether it’s a balmy summer evening or a brisk fall afternoon, there is no better place to share a sunset in Central Park. The restaurant offers more than just scenery, too. With an accomplished and imaginative kitchen and professional floor staff, the restaurant offers a gastronomical experience to equal that of any of New York’s finer restaurants. Add to that the incomparable panoramic view of the heart of Central Park, and you have the perfect recipe for an evening of romantic bliss.
3. Belvedere Castle
A storybook setting framed against the cosmopolitan skyline, Belvedere Castle offers a charming juxtaposition between urban architecture and medieval artifact. It also provides a magically romantic backdrop for a shared moment between lovers. Strolling along the parapets evokes images of errant knights and ladies in waiting, of a time when suitors declared their devotion by sonnet rather than cell phone. The edifice gives visitors a scenic overlook to the Great Lawn and Turtle Pond directly beneath. It is also just a few steps from the Delacorte Theater, which has also played host to its share of star-crossed romances. Of all the romantic spots in Central Park, it is Belvedere Castle that must be experienced by moonlight. The glint of silvery light reflected off the mullioned windows, the pool shimmering below, all this and the myriad lights of the city beyond, how could even the most audacious suggestion be refused?
2. Bethesda Fountain
Bethesda Fountain rises majestically above the Terrace along the south shore of the Lake. The sculpture that tops it, Angel of the Waters, was designed by Emma Stebbins in 1873 and is one of the most recognizable icons in the entire park. It is also one of the loveliest places to share a romantic interlude. Couples can sit by the fountain and watch the row boats, and occasional gondola, glide by on the tranquil waters of the Lake. Directly across to the north, you can see the Boathouse Restaurant that stretches down to the water’s edge. It is scene that harks back to another era, the turn of the nineteenth century. You almost expect to see a parasol held by one of the ladies strolling by. It is one of the magical qualities of Central Park: it not only takes you away from the confines of a loud and busy city, but it also can transport you to another time. It is here, at Bethesda Fountain, that you can imagine your love by gaslight, waiting to accompany you to dinner at Delmonico’s. Bowlers optional.
1. Bow Bridge
Bow Bridge stretches gracefully across the Lake, connecting the carefully
crafted Cherry Hill and the natural jumble of the Ramble. The bridge is one of the finest examples of the magic that resulted from the combined vision of Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould. It is one of the most popular and best known spots to meet, and has hosted numerous tender moments, both on and off the big screen. In fact, if you edited them together, you could probably construct an entire Woody Allen feature just from the scenes filmed on Bow Bridge (and despite rumors to the contrary, the bridge has always been very easy to work with and has nothing but admiration and respect for the celebrated director.) It is the romantic heart of the park, stretching across the Lake and framing one of the most iconic views in New York, that of the Dakota Apartments and the west side of Manhattan. Countless proposals have been made on the bridge, as well as hearts poured forth and troths plighted. It is, especially at sunset, the most romantic spot in Central Park.
Cherry Hill Fountain
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching I thought I’d make a list counting down the ten most romantic places in Central Park.
8. – Cherry Hill Perched above the Lake, overlooking Bow Bridge and the Ramble, Cherry Hill is at the virtual center of the park, but still manages to remain relatively serene. Like a reclusive beauty who will only reveal herself to the dedicated suitor, scenic Cherry Hill can only be appreciated by those intrepid enough to take the short walk up the winding road that leads from Park Drive at 72nd St. At the center, you’ll find a beautiful fountain designed by Jacob Wrey Mould. It features a granite pool with a black and gilt cast-iron center construct, topped by eight round lamps and a golden spire. It is an elegant site that bespeaks a gentler, more refined era. A place where it would not seem at all strange find a Hansom carriage parked, awaiting you and your paramour for a leisurely journey, the long way home.