The great outdoors: NYC's urban oases reopen, providing a much-needed escape for shut-in residents
By Joe Dziemianowicz
The city's public gardens are welcoming visitors again after being off limits for months
New York City public gardens are savoring Phase 4 days in the sun now that they have gotten the go-ahead to reopen.
On Aug. 7, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden will join other outdoor horticultural hot spots -- the New York Botanical Garden and Wave Hill in the Bronx and the High Line in Manhattan, among them -- that are already welcoming visitors who've spent spring and some of summer sheltering at home.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden "was founded 110 years ago with the idea that beautiful, accessible outdoor space was essential to health and well-being for New York City residents," interim co-director Leslie Findlen, said in a statement. "That is as true today as it was then."
There are, of course, differences between the past and present. Capacity is reduced at gardens for social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (http://www.marketwatch.com/economy-politics/coronavirus). Advance timed-entry tickets are required, as are face coverings. Hours have been pruned at some gardens, and tours and public programs are temporarily suspended.
After being closed for more than four months, garden staff are eager for nature-hungry New Yorkers to savor the city's glorious flower power up close and in person. And people are yearning to return. Following a special complimentary week in July for Bronx frontline health care workers and residents that drew 10,000 guests, the New York Botanical Garden tickets are now available in two-week increments. More than 23,000 tickets have been booked for visits through Aug. 9. Wave Hill visitors can reserve tickets on Monday for the following Thursday to Sunday. The garden reports that the opening four days filled up "within hours." And since reopening, despite reduced capacity for social distancing, the High Line has most days "welcomed a few thousand people."
Deep into summer, now it's about taking stock of what's gone by and making up for lost time. "During the height of spring, the silence and lack of 'Oohs' and 'Ahhs' was deafening," said Todd Forrest, vice president for the horticulture and living collections at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, a 250-acre space where annual spectators typically sprout to more than one million.
Forrest was among a fortunate few to see Daffodil Hill, home to hundreds of thousands of the bulbs, burst into a 4-acre blanket of yellow and white at the garden. He also got to inhale the intoxicating perfume of blooming lilac and cherry trees. "I was sniffing for everybody," Forrest said.
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Similarly, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, nature's show went on as usual -- no matter that practically no one got to see it. "The spring and early summer lushness took us aback," said horticulture director Ronnit Bendavid-Val. "We had the most astounding blooms. The entire rose garden was amazing."
At the High Line -- the elevated plant-filled park that runs about 1.5 miles from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street that partially reopened in July -- "the bird population exploded, especially robins," said horticulture director Eric Rodriguez. "They were not scared of human interaction. You could walk right up to them."
And at Wave Hill, a 28-acre Bronx estate with public gardens overlooking the Hudson River, lawns were mowed less frequently. Eastern cottontail rabbits and honeybees had a field day with the clover. The birds and the bees and the beasts have since settled into their typical behaviors.
Horticulture staff, reduced in the early days of the coronavirus lockdown and now mostly back to normal, were the lone witnesses to all of these natural highs. Happily, there are more of those sense-stirring experiences for all to enjoy in the coming weeks and months.
Gardens, after all, are deeply rooted reminders that life goes on. Summer floral showoffs at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden include crepe myrtle, echinacea, hydrangea, rudbeckia and Russian sage. "The water garden and native flora garden are really going strong," Bendavid-Val said.
"Despite the heat, everything is green," she said, adding that there are new sights, including a woodland garden.
Meanwhile, the New York Botanical Garden's summer scene-stealers have emerged. "Because it's so hot and sunny, the stars of the show are the water lilies," Forrest said.
Separately, at the High Line, grassland and prairie areas around 20th Street offer splendid natural eye candy, according to Rodriguez. Because of the way the plants were pruned and cut back during pandemic pause, he said, "these areas now look and feel a lot more wild."
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And at Wave Hill, the Wild Garden, the Herb and Dry Gardens and the Aquatic Garden "are looking pretty great right now," according to Louis Bauer, senior director of horticulture. "Also, having no visitors during closing meant greatly reduced wear on the lawns, making them more lush than any other year."
Change is part of nature.
"The great thing about gardens is that every year is different," said Forrest, who has worked at the New York Botanical Garden for 22 years. "It feels new every year." Unprecedented in so many ways, 2020 is no exception.
-Joe Dziemianowicz; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 05, 2020 13:11 ET (17:11 GMT)
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