USA: NY: Conservatory Garden Part 2

After leaving the green lawns and formal hedges of the Italianate garden in Central Park’s Conservatory Garden, it comes as something of a shock to walk into the next section of the garden and see a riot of colourful flowers.


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Overview of the French Garden

This French influenced garden is oval in shape. A clipped hedge protects the outer border of colourful flowers while the apron of the fountain pool is surrounded by a partierre style garden of green and red. Beyond are the trees of the main park with a path leading away from this small contained garden to the wide acres of Central Park and the waters of Harlem Mere.



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The plants of the partiere are left unclipped with a shaggy, soft appearance.



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The floral border was a mass of Korean Chrysanthemums.

Korean Mums ( Dendranthema) are very hardy and grow in a loose and graceful mounds.  Their dark-green foliage stays fresh all season. According to garden officianados in the North Eastern Sates of US, these Mums suffer no bug or disease problems worth mentioning and the 3-inch daisy-like blossoms don’t have the aroma that other Mums seem to exude. (Apparently, some people don’t like the smell of conventional Mums.)  All in all, a good plant to grow in this part of the world. I wonder how they’d grow here in Canberra, in Australia. We might try!

I love daisy-like flowers and photographing these blooms was a delight.



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Notes from the New York Botanic Garden tell us that “Korean Mums were first hybridized (bred) in Connecticut in the 1930s by a nurseryman named Alex Cummings. He was working on hybridizing cold-hardy varieties that would flourish in New England temperatures. He came across a tall plant, a wild species he mistakenly identified as Chrysanthemum coreanum. Breeding from that plant resulted eventually in these lavish Korean Mums.

The original species was native to Korea, so the popular name of “Korean Mum” is correct. Their spectacular, daisy-like flowers come in a wide range of colors, from pale yellow and dusty pink to burnt-orange and fiery red. They certainly make a vibrant show in the autumn months in the Conservatory Garden. ( If you come here in the Spring time, you can enjoy a lavish display of colourful tulips.)



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After inspecting and photographing this wonderful display, we took time out to just sit on one of the benches with our New York friend and enjoy the beauty of one of her favourite quiet places.



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The fountain in the middle of the pond is a bronze copy of the joyful “Three Maidens Fountain” by German Sculptor, Walter Schott. Here in this garden, it’s also known as the Untermyer Fountain in memory of a well known civic leader, Samual Untermyer. The sculture once graced his estate in Yonkers, New York and was given to the city as a gift by his children after his death in 1940.



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The fountain exudes the joy of life and really lifts your spirits as you watch, half expecting the maidens to begin to laugh as they dance. Their dresses cling to their bodies as if perpetually wet from the spray of the fountain!

Beyond the fountain there are borders of perennial plants and a rose covered archway.



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Another view of the garden through some perennial plants.



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The perennials add even more bright colour to the garden.


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P1100818 – Version 2 © JT of jtdytravels

A closer look! Stunningly beautiful.



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Sunshine yellow against dark foliage is an interesting combination.



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This French section of the Conservatory Garden is indeed a very pleasant and quiet place to spend time away from the chaos of the city. But we had not yet finished our exploration of this secret part of Central Park. We still had the third section of the garden to explore, the English Garden, and we’ll visit there in my next posting.

Jennie and David

All photography copyright ©  Jennie Thomas and David Young



USA: NY Secret Garden a

Not being a fan of chaotic big cities, but being in New York to visit family and friends, we set ourselves the task of finding the quieter places, places to escape. And one of those places is a small six acre section of that great, green space, Central Park.


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Many people know the beauty and the facilities of Central Park but few know that there is a ‘secret garden’ very close to this north-eastern section of the park.


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Google Map of Conservatory Garden, NY

To get there, we travelled north along Park Avenue by bus from 59th Street to 106th Street. ( We could have taken the subway # 6 to 103rd Street Station.) It was then but a short walk west to to the gates of the Conservatory Garden in 5th Avenue opposite 105th Street. This area is the border between Manhattan and Harlam, and Harlam, as many of our age will remember, did not always have the best of reputations for safety. So much has changed in New York and safety is one thing I noticed had really changed. The city still has an edge to it but we felt as safe as we do at home in Australia.


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P1080818 © DY of jtdytravels

David and me in front of the Vanderbilt Gate.

The main entry to the Conservatory Garden is through a magnificent wrought iron gate, the Vanderbilt Gate. This gate was designed by an American architect, George B Post and made in France. It was used for many years at the entrance to the estate of Cornelius Vanderbilt ll whose home stood at the corner of 5th Avenue and 58th Street.

We were about to step into a garden that not so long ago was an area avoided by most, a derelict area of filth, of drugs and of crime, a place where no one in their right mind would enter. But that was then. This is now. And the transormation is the result of the vision of one woman and the hard work of many volunteers who followed her vision.

The Conservatory Garden is named for the original conservatory glasshouses that were used by the Central Park to grow on plants for the park. They fell into disrepair when the cost of maintaining the glasshouses became too great and they were finally demolished in 1937. In their place a new garden was developed by Betty Sprout and Gilmore Clarke and it was maintained until the 1960s when it too became unmanageable. It stayed unloved and unkempt for twenty years.

This area became a very dangerous place to be, neglected, fullof garbage, the haunt of drug addicta and dealers; a place with a very high cime rate.  That was until a landscape gardener named Lyndon B Miller was approached by a friend to see if she thought the garden could be restored. What a sight met her eyes… but thankfully she saw the potential. But restoring a garden costs money and takes time. Photographs of French and English gardens were shown to possible sponsors and volunteers from the New York Garden Club came to the fore to help. This garden is a tesatment to the value of a garden in the social life of a city. Crime has disappeared and it’s now a place of peace and relaxation.

In 1983, a Women’s Committee was founded to make sure that Central Park and the Conservatory Garden remain in good condition for the people of New York and their visitors. They raise funds through Charity events, through the sale of plaques on the park benches ( there are some 9,000 benches in Central Park!), through the adoption of trees, and through donations to help buy the many tulips and other flowers that adorn the Conservatory Garden.

New Yorkers, and visitors like us, have much for which to thank these women. Certainly many of the 1,000 plus members probably live in close proximity to the park… for aprtment dwellers, it’s somewhat akin to having your own garden. But these women raise many millions of dollars to help keep the park and its facitlities in good order. I’m sure those who founded this park and the Conservatory Garden would be thrilled to see their vision still alive and vibrant today.


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P1080820 © DY of jtdytravels


This garden is a designated QUIET Zone… something very rare in new York! It’s for those who want to quietly enjoy a stroll in beautiful surroundings where there are no bicycles or horse drawn carriages or runners to dodge, let alone people out for a brisk walk with their dogs. In this secret garden you will share peace and space with other like minded folk who seek to sit quietly, to read or just to stroll in the beautiful Conservancy Garden. Let’s go inside and enjoy its beauty.


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Aerial View of the Conservancy Gardens in Spring

The photo above comes from the Park’s website and shows the layout of the Conservatory Garden.There are three sections, each one reminiscent of one of the great classical gardens of England, Italy and France. On the left is the gentle English Garden; in the centre a classic Italianate Garden bordered by the pink and white of crab apples in the spring time. Beyond the lawn and the fountain is a raised area backed by an extraordinary, semi circular wisteria arch, a pleasant pace to sit and read in the heat of summer, I would imagine. On the right is the more formal French styled garden which has plantings of tulips in the spring and Chrysanthemums in the autumn.



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The Italian Garden

The first garden to greet you after you enter the gate is the expansive lawn of the Italianate Garden. This is a favourite place for weddings and for wedding photo shoots. We were there on a week day, so it was all very peaceful. Beyond the lawn is the cool arbour od wisteria. It must be a magic sight, and fragrance, in late spring. We were there in October and the crab apple trees were just beginning to change colour.



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From the fountain, looking back across the lawn to part of Mount Sinai Hospital.



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Close up of the fountain.



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Autumnal leaves on a small pool.



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Portrait of autumn leaf on water.



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Beside the Italian garden is a quiet avenue of trees, a favourite place for those who just want to sit and read in a shady place, seemingly far from the chaos of the city. And yet, 5th Avenue is really only meters away!



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The French Garden

To the right of the Italian Garden is a garden with a French influence. It’s a small sunken garden filled with flowers. The unexpected sight of so many flowers and such a riot of colour in Central Park, or any where in Manhattan, comes as a bit of a surprise… a very pleasant surprise. This photo is a just a taste of what’s to come in my next post… so stay tuned!

Jennie and David

Photography copyright ©  Jennie Thomas and David Young


USA: NY: Central Park

David and I have recently returned from a trip to USA and in the coming days I hope to take you, by means of armchair travel, to some of the special places we found and enjoyed.  One of the main purposes of this journey was to visit friends and family, some of whom live in the ‘wilds’ of that great metropolis, New York.

New York is all that I had heard about it; it has a life force of its own; it pulsates; it’s busy, chaotic, brash, noisy, clogged with traffic, and it both excites the senses and saps your energy. But there are places where you can escape the hectic hustle and bustle, places where you can find a little peace and tranquility and let yourself recompose before re-entering the hubbub of busy Manhattan; before you dive down steps into the noise and smell and heat of, what must be said, is a very efficient subway; or weave your way between the throngs of people hurrying in  the streets, hurrying it seems without a moment to waste; or trying to make yourself heard by the person right beside you in one of the hundreds of good but extremely noisy restaurants and cafés. Why, oh why, must the sound level be raised so loud in a place where people want to enjoy good food and a chat?  But that’s New York.

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P1100785 © JT of jtdytravels

 Sunday morning in the Soho area of lower Manhattan.

But there are a few places to escape. One is on the rooftop terrace of one of the many skyscaper buildings. There you are somewhat removed from the chaos as you look down on an expansive view of the metropolitan landscape.  Some of these rooftops are open to the public; some are not. Our vantage point was the deck of a private office area on the top floor of the old AT&T building in Lower Manhattan, in the Soho area.

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P1080813 © JT of jtdytravels

Looking north from Soho towards the Empire State Building

When you look down from this eiri above the city what you see is a mass of buildings, the proverbial concrete jungle,  interspersed by a grid of roads streaming north and south (the Avenues), and east and west (the Streets). The skyscapers seem to be getting ever higher as space on this island becomes scarcer.


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Another view from the roof terrace of the AT&T Building

 And the other thing that is obvious is that there is little room for gardens in this mega city. There are a few roof top terraces as in the left bottom corner of the photo… but they are few and far between. How, one wonders, does this city breathe? Is there anywhere to truly escape the city and find trees and grass and green? The answer is yes.

Perhaps the best known place for green and ‘escape’ is Central Park.  It’s much further north, well beyond the skyscrapers that surround the Empire State Building. To get there we had to venture north to 59th Street… the subway is best as the roads become like parking lots and it takes a lot of time to get anywhere. And the subways are cheap and efficient.

When, like a mole, you emerge from the subway at 59th you will find the gateway to the massive Central Park. It is a huge park, covering many blocks in the midst of this busy city, from 59th Street north to 110th Street, a distance of 4 kms (2.5 miles).  It is, indeed, the most important escape valve of this heavily populated island city. It’s the place where New Yorkers and tourists alike gravitate especially on weekends to try to ‘get away from it all’ and to enjoy some of the many attractions and activities available in the park.

Map of Central Park; NY showing many of the attractions in the park.

Map of Central Park; NY showing many of the attractions in the park.

Official Central Park map of attractions (see the web for details)

We went one lovely, sunny, autumn afternoon in October…. and wished we hadn’t… for it seemed like the whole of the population of New York was there.  Perhaps not all! Some, I know, were at a “Pickle Festival” and others no doubt found other less well known New York retreats, but we were certainly not alone in Central Park that day! Hundreds upon hundreds, no, thousands of people descended on the park that Sunday afternoon.


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P1100793 © JT of jtdytravels

Boating on ‘The Lake’

They came to walk, run, cycle, skate board, roller skate, ride in horse drawn carriages, ride in people powered pedicabs, boat on the lake, visit the zoo, play a game of baseball, walk in a natural woodland or the wildlife sanctuary, watch theatre, listen to bands and buskers, walk the dog, ride a horse, find a rock or grassy knoll to sit or lie on and generally unwind in the park. It was not, however, a peaceful retreat from the chaotic, busy city. It was just different. But it was anything but peaceful! So my advice is, if you are not into chaos and want to truly escape the city, go to Central Park mid week!


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P1100795 © JT of jtdytravels

“The Lake”, one of several expanses of water in the park.

During the working week, you may enjoy a little more peace, a little less chaos. It’s then that, to me, Central Park comes into its own as one of the great parks of the world. This park was designed by two visionary men of the 1800s,  Frederick Law Olmsted and Englishman, Calvert Vaux. The population of NY had nearly quadrupeled between 1821 and 1855 and these two landscape architects won a competiton to provide the city with a green escape. They built a park that, for them, translated their democratic ideals into trees and green spaces. They wanted a park that would give respite to rich and poor alike, to New Yorkers, no matter their educational status, no matter their origins, no matter their class; a park that would provide a respite from the industrial pollution of the time; a place to relax and recuperate from the hard physical labour of the time.  The park was opened first in 1857 on 778 acres (315 ha) of city owned land and completed in 1873.  It has gone through several revisions and restorations since and now covers 843 acres (341ha). It still provides the city with the green space it needs to survive. It is indeed the city’s “green lung”, a term first used by Olmsted.


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The San Remo Apartments rise above the trees.

The park was built on land that was once shanty towns. It is said that some 1,600 poor people were evicted and their villages razed to make way for the park. Whilst the park was being constructed, sheep grazed on the lower end meadows and did so from the 1860s to 1934. Now the streets that run alongside the park are lined with wonderful museums like The Met and The American Museum of Natural History, as well as the homes and apartments of the rich and famous.  This is a very expensive area of Manhattan… but the park is free and open to the public to enjoy. And, for most of the time whilst you are in the park, the city, whilst it can still be distantly heard, is not seen.


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P1100862 © JT of jtdytravels

Rocky outcrops in the northern end of the park.

Because the natural land here was not very fertile, the building of the park required taking way extensive amounts of material and replacing it with topsoil brought over the river from New Jersey.  It is claimed that, by 1873, more than four million trees, shrubs and plants representing 1,500 species had been brought in and planted to beautify Central Park. I have read that there are currently 25,000 trees and that these include 1,700 American elms, thankfully protected by their isolation here in the park from the devastating Dutch elm disease.

Planting and maintenance is of course an ongoing process and the efforts of the ground staff is well rewarded in this very special park for all New Yorkers and their visitors to enjoy. The park staff deserve a very special thank you.

Central Park is a green space. It is not a flower garden. But in my next entry, I will introduce you to a little known corner of Central Park where peace and quiet and the beauty of flowers can be enjoyed in abundance.

Jennie and David

Photography © Jennie Thomas

of jtdytravels