Tag Archives: parks

Gardens of New York

Well I guess there are many private gardens in New York but lacking in the Squares that London abounds in and the Royal Parks, New Yorkers have to make do with two public parks as their joint and shared garden – and they certainly like them! The two I am referring to of course are Central Park and the High Line.

Whilst in New York earlier this year we went to both these parks – I was particularly interested to see what the High Line was really like having seen many photos and descriptions. It did not disappoint except I had thought it would be wider somehow.

It seemed to us that when we were walking the High Line the whole of Chelsea Village, friends and visitors were there too. It was very crowded where we got on but did thin out by the time we left it. I guess the ice cream vendors and coffee shops were close to where we got on and the sun had come out so…

The landscaping cleverly used much of the old railway structure with some stunning planting varieties in a prairie fashion including species tulips. But then it was Piet Oudolph who designed it, so what could you expect. And he handily provided a complete list of plants available from the website of the Friends of the High Line.

In May they also had a great art exhibition with 16 plus exhibits from photos to words to sculptures cleverly positioned so that they surprised you as you came across them. Some were very large and some small but all had something interesting to say.

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Of course the other public garden in New York is Central Park. We couldn’t walk all through it but did see the following plants: Judas trees; azaleas and dwarf rhododendrons; tulips; pieris; painted ferns; hellebores; American plane trees; American elms, oaks and sugar maples as well as other maples.

Before going I had thought that Central Park was mainly grass and trees, with perhaps a skate park – my impression from the TV programmes watched, but in fact there was much more to it as the list of plants indicates.

The old stories I have heard make it out to be pretty much of a no-go area but certainly on a sunny day it was full of people enjoying themselves – locals, mums and strollers, bikes and runners, and of course, tourists.

There was a very fancy restaurant, and cafes; flowers, trees, paths, water, large boulders – glaciated granite probably – the Citadel (castle as mentioned in some books) and Shakespeare’s garden. Now this intrigues us Brits – why a Shakespeare garden?

According to the official website:

“Shakespeare Garden is a four-acre landscape named for the famed English poet and playwright. The garden features flowers and plants mentioned in his poems and plays. Small bronze plaques scattered throughout the garden bear quotes from the Bard.

The garden was first conceived in the 1880s when park commissioner George Clausen asked the Park’s entomologist to create a garden adjacent to the nature study center in the Swedish Cottage. In 1913, Commissioner Gaynor dedicated it officially to the works of Shakespeare. After years of neglect, Shakespeare Garden, just as most of Central Park, fell into disrepair. In 1987, Central Park Conservancy restored and expanded the garden, repaving paths and installing rustic wooden benches and bronze plaques with quotations from the Bard’s masterpieces.” [http://www.centralparknyc.org/things-to-see-and-do/attractions/shakespeare-garden.html]. It is not really a flower park in the way much of Regent’s Park is but still very attractive for a stroll on a nice day.

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Now the clematis fanatic in me was interested to see that on the official website if you look to see what is in bloom in the spring the first 3 items are clematis:

‘Huldine’ Clematis

Botanical Name: Clematis x ‘Huldine’
Bloom Season: Spring
Typical Bloom Time: May to June
Location: Conservatory Garden

‘Perle d’Azure’ Clematis

Botanical Name: Clematis x ‘Perle d’Azure’
Bloom Season: Spring
Typical Bloom Time: May to June
Location: Conservatory Garden

‘Ramona’ Clematis

Botanical Name: Clematis x ‘Ramona’
Bloom Season: Spring
Typical Bloom Time: May to August
Location: Conservatory Garden

Pity not more of them but then as my article for the Clematis journal says, clematis are not that wide spread in the US as the winters are mostly too cold for many of them. Still there are several that are suitable for the climate depending on which zone you are in. The High Line has a set of 9 clematis also ranging from clinging vines to herbaceous including viticella and tangutica varieties and from red to yellow in colour.




Cygnets, shamans and boats: Life on a busy canal

Not so long ago we went  for a walk along the Regent’s Canal.  It was bright but still cold and we saw the first ducklings and cygnets of the year. The canal was quite murky and not as pristine as the other direction of the Regents which we have walked but clearly clean enough for wild fowl to live and thrive.

The stretch along from Haggerston in the East End to Mile End passing under the Roman Road was new to us and our friends so off we went in high expectations and these were more than justified…

This is a rather different stretch of the canal – much less neat and pretty and although still well populated by houseboats, these were rather down market in comparison to along the other direction.

This stretch is very much an exercise on how London is changing and what and who is populating it.

The canal is rather dirty here and there is quite a lot of rubbish floating along – perhaps thrown out by houseboats passing or by passerby or… but it is a very busy stretch of towpath with many cyclists whizzing along. Some of these will be the houseboat owners off to work or shop or… but here you don’t have a Sainsbury’s you can pull up your boat alongside and moor while you do your shopping, so you have to go off canal.

Despite the rather mucky water it is clearly quite healthy as we saw our first chicks of the year! Not only coots and moorhens, some of which were still sitting on nests – they build these platforms on top of small logs and stuff – and others with chicks of quite some size following chirpily along (they chirp continuously). But also, ducks and yes, our first cygnets of the year. Swans prefer to build nests out of water on large platforms. This pair had quite young cygnets still in the nest and just peeking over. They had built behind some breakwaters in a sheltered cove across the other side of the canal. Just as well as male swans can be very aggressive and they are large birds with big strong wings that can easily break bones… so you don’t want to have to walk too close to a nest!

We saw a variety of houseboats from a rather interesting one that had been tricked out in mock Elizabethan wood structures and sported a sign offering Shamanic fortunes to be told. I never knew that shamanic fortune telling was different but clearly someone thought it was. This boat also apparently had not got electric power (they would need to have their own generators as there is no mains to tie into) and was selling candles which it appeared to use inside.

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Haggerston according to our book on the Regents Canal marks the boundary between Hackney and Bethnal Green, and was itself once a small hamlet but now of course, is a busy part of East London having been swallowed up in the 10th century building following canal and railway development. The canal of course is a little older and was built with horse ramps at various bridges. These were because the horses pulling the canal boats and barges were often frightened by the steam engines of the railways and would rear and bolt into the canal. Someone then would have the job of coaxing them out and the ramps were necessary to provide a bank for them to climb.

As we walked the towpath we saw a variety of buildings on the opposite side of the canal from very modern and new developments to old factories that had been squatted and turned into rather ramshackle dwellings alongside small gardens and canal-side patios created out of whatever they could scavenge, and old cottages that had been there for a couple of centuries that were either well converted or rather tatty.

The houseboats were of a similar mixed collection of very modern, ones created by scavenging materials and others that were converted lifeboats or even military crafts.. whatever people could afford or wanted to live and all sizes and shapes with windows of all shapes too.

As we went towards Mile End we came across Victoria Park. This was a park we had never been to but it is very large  and built in the 1840s as a recreational space away from the bustle of the city. Laid out by John Nash cousin to the famous builder of the Nash crescents, it is the largest London municipal park. During the 2nd WW the park was used to store anti-aircraft guns and as such was is itself a target for the bombers and several artefacts were destroyed. It is a park that has been used frequently for demonstrations and held the Rock Against Racism concert in 1978 and still holds Summer concerts.

This part of the canal has several locks still operating and it is always good amusement to watch the boaters struggle to open and close the heavy gates and then the lock fills or empties slowly and you chat  to the boaters during this period finding out where they’ve come from and where they are going to, and then the gates open and off they go to their new mooring.

We ended up at Mile End, which is a scene from my childhood as I frequently visited relatives there but it has changed dramatically since then – becoming much more yuppie and the shops that I remember are no more – Costa Coffee has made it there!

In addition a new park has been created in the last 20 years built upon bomb sites left from the 2nd WW. It is next to one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the UK – the Sephardi Novo Beth Chaim  cemetery  which opened in 1725 and replaced an older cemetery (1657).

The Ecology Park which is part of this new development has a collection of lakes, a wind turbine, an earth sheltered building with major solar power glazing and a water bore hole to provide clean water. This park also has a Green Bridge (which is yellow underneath and thus is known as the Banana Bridge locally) which is covered in grass and also has trees and flowers and provides a pedestrian bridge over the road.

So old is this area of East London that the major road that runs through it, and after which a Market is named, is the Roman Road. Mile End is named after the first milestone from Aldgate in the City.

We ended our journey there taking the Docklands Light Railway back to meet the Tube network and home for tea and beetroot and pineapple cake! (see recipe in an earlier blog) Oh and yes, the New Globe Tavern is all that is left of an earlier park for the many pleasures and divertissements of the 1820s…