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Conservatory Garden – Central Park’s Secluded Oasis

Conservatory Garden in Central Park

Conservatory Garden in Central Park

Spring is definitely here – so I thought it might be time to remind everyone of one of the hidden wonders of Central Park – Conservatory Garden.   At Fifth Avenue and 105th St. it is  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.

To enter the six-acre Garden from Fifth Avenue and 105th Street, you must pass through the Vanderbilt Gate. Installed in 1939, it originally served as the entrance to the Vanderbilt Mansion at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street (at the present site of the Bergdorf Goodman department store) until its demolition in 1927. One of the best examples of wrought iron work in New York City, the gate was made in France with designs by American architect George B. Post. The only formal garden in Central Park, the Conservatory Garden derives its name from a huge glass conservatory that once stood on the same spot, which was built in 1898. While not the impressive construct included by Olmsted and Vaux in the original Greensward Plan, it was put to brilliant use by the head gardener of the new park, Ignaz Pilat. It was here that many of the first shrubs and trees that were later planted in the park were first cultivated. When maintenance of the facility became too costly it was torn down in 1934 and replaced with the present garden in 1934.

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 North Garden

The north garden is patterned in the classical French style. At its center is a lovely fountain named the Three Dancing Maidens, constructed in 1910 by the famed German Sculptor Walter Schott. (It is also known, somewhat less euphoniously, as the Untermeyer Fountain, after the family who presented it to the City in 1947.) The fountain is surrounded by sloping beds which display a dazzling array of floral designs, which change seasonally. From the twenty thousand tulips that brilliantly proclaim the end of winter to the 2,000 Korean chrysanthemums which bloom in the fall each change in the climate is marked by yet another brilliant floral display. And representing the four seasons are the four entryways to the garden’s center, the arbors festooned with climbing “Silver Moon” roses, which produce gleaming white and pink hued blossoms in June.

The Central Garden

At the center lies the Italian style garden. It is bordered on both north and south sides by walkways lined with crabapple trees, which bloom in the spring. Above it, on the west side, is a wrought-iron wisteria pergola which looks down on a beautiful geyser fountain. This array is especially lovely in the spring when the pergola is covered with violet flowers. In the middle lies the meticulously clipped green lawn, providing a restful and understated stage from which to view the floral extravagance surrounding it. The Italian Garden is also the favorite spot of wedding photographers and virtually any season will find couples from all over the world waiting to have their pictures taken.

The South 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. 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).

Ringing the fountain and pool are the seasonal planting beds. Around this are arranged an amazing collection of perennial trees and shrubs, which now features, at its southern end a restful shade garden. Perhaps the most popular of the three the English Garden, with its revolving display of seasonal blooms and quiet, magnolia scented walkways, is the favorite of readers, gardeners, strollers and the contentedly sighing stare-ers into space. Stepping through the Vanderbilt Gates offers not only a change of pace and locale, but also the illusion of temporal transport. You not only leave behind the sights and sounds of the city, but the date as well.

Details: The Conservatory Garden is open daily from 8 a.m. until dusk. Free tours start at the front gate Saturday at 11 a.m., April – October.

Central Park’s Shakespeare Garden – A Celebration of Spring – Literally

One of the many hidden gems of Central Park, the Shakespeare Garden is a lovely spot to “stop and smell the roses”.

Shakespeare Garden in Central Park
John B. Moore
Shakespeare Garden in Central Park.

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.

Weeds are shallow-rooted, Suffer them now, and they’ll o’ergrow the garden, And choke the herbs for want of husbandry.
William Shakespeare: King Henry the Sixth, Part II (Queen Margaret at III, i)

This quote could have easily applied to Central Park’s Shakespeare Garden by the mid-1970’s. After years of neglect due to budget constraints and general disinterest the Garden had become run down and overgrown. Then in 1975 a group of volunteers stepped in and started to bring the garden back to its former glory. In 1986 the rescue of the garden was complete as a full restoration was undertaken funded by Samuel and May Rudin. The garden was replanted and expanded upward towards Belvedere Castle. The Shakespeare Garden is once again a popular attraction in the park and the perfect place to ruminate after a performance in the nearby Delacorte Theater.

Location: West Side between 79th and 80th Streets

Early Signs of Spring

Snowdrops

 

In search of…  After a surprisingly mild winter I thought it might not be too soon to see if spring was somewhere in the not too distant future.  I needed to assure myself of March’s eventual lanolin enriched exit.

After much roaming about the sides of the bridle path around the reservoir, where a crocus or two can usually be found peaking out by this time of year, I had come away empty.  I then remembered where The first snowdrops are always sure to appear and headed up to the Conservatory Garden.  Sure enough, my search was rewarded by the delicately hardy little blossoms.

Take a minute to check out the Blossom Schedule on CentralPark.org and find out when your favorite flowers will be appearing in the park.

Central Park's Most Romantic Places – Conservatory Garden

Conservatory Garden in Central Park

Conservatory Garden in Central Park

Number 5. on our countdown of  Central Park’s most romantic places – 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.


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