After winter delivered one snowy Polar Vortex filled day after another to the inhabitants of New York City, spring can’t come soon enough. And what better way to celebrate than with the burst of warmth and color that nature provides. For the finest in bloom peeping, we’ve uncovered the 10 best places to see the city in full flower. From the Bronx and Staten Island to the heart of Manhattan, you won’t have to go far to get a taste of spring.
Starting in April, all of Central Park bursts with flowers and trees showing off their finery, but perhaps the most spectacular place to see spring in all its glory is on the north end of the park along Fifth Avenue at the Conservatory Garden. A peaceful, well-ordered oasis in the heart of Manhattan, this formal garden has space for visitors to sit amid the plantings or repose on one of its many benches. Highlights include a French-style garden with hundreds of tulips and a cozy bulb-heavy English garden on the southern side that houses the Burnett memorial fountain, a tribute to the author of The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett. You’ll also be stunned by two rows of pink and white crabapple trees. Best of all, the garden is officially designated a “quiet zone” so there’s no fear of barking boom boxes or raucous picnicking. Check out the NYC Parks Department bloom guide for additional info. 104th Street and Fifth Avenue, centralparknyc.org
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
This 52-acre natural wonderland in Brooklyn is packed with budding plants, trees and flowers from spring through fall. From the Cranford Rose Garden — filled with more than a thousand varieties to the spring bulbs — to the Shakespeare Garden — with its more than 80 types of plants from the famous playwright’s works — the options can seem happily endless. Above all else, don’t miss the Sakura Matsuri Cherry Festival, celebrating Japanese culture and the peak foliage of the more than 200 trees (40-plus species) along the Cherry Esplanade and in the Cherry Walk path. Check the blossom status on the BBG website for the most up-to-date info. This year, the festival takes place on April 26 and 27. 150 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn, 718-623-7200, bbg.org
The Brooklyn Botanical Garden festival might get most of the attention when it comes to cherry blossoms, but Manhattan’s Riverside Park has its own pretty-in-pink claim to fame. Dubbed the Cherry Walk, this stretch along the Hudson between 100th and 125th streets is loaded with dozens of cherry trees that bloom in dramatic fashion every April. Even more impressive is Sakura Park (just off Riverside Park at 122nd Street), packed with 2,000-plus trees donated by Japan in 1912. Between W. 100th and 125th streets on the Hudson, nycgovparks.org
The Flower Garden at Wave Hill
This 28-acre public garden in the Bronx has a breathtaking location overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades and a view that’s worth a trip to this outpost of green no matter the season. If you can visit in spring, however, you’re in for an even more magnificent treat. Wave Hill’s Flower Garden comes into its own on the early side of the season. Its sea of perennials and spring bulbs are planted on a wooden fenced plot that adds a bit of countryside magic. West 249th Street and Independence Avenue, Bronx, 718-549-3200, wavehill.org
New York Botanical Garden
The Azalea Garden, an almost mile-long path that zigzags through beautiful woodlands, almost makes you forget you’re in the Bronx. This garden starts to show life in early May and continues going strong into mid-June with more than 3,000 azaleas and rhododendrons from across the globe showing off an array of colors. The Seasonal Walk, designed by the gardening mastermind behind the High Line (see below), is a new feature for the park in 2014, and it presents a year-round display of plants, many of which shine in spring. The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden is another draw with its more than 4,000 rose bushes representing 600 varieties. 2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx, 718-817-8700, nybg.org
There’s nary a local or visitor who doesn’t fall in love with this elevated park — running on abandoned rail tracks from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street in West Midtown (the stretch between 30th and 34th streets opens later in the year) — which has the look and feel of a floating urban meadow. Indeed, it’s won numerous awards for landscape design that is visually challenging in every season and incorporates many native species. Renowned planting designer Piet Oudolf is the brains behind the naturalistic approach, which weaves long beds of flowers and plants along the walkways, with elements sprouting from cracks and crevices at every turn. The main flowering season for the park is June and July (geraniums, daffodils and sassafras), but plants begin to awaken as early as February. See the month-by-month plant guide for more info. Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, 212-206-9922, thehighline.org
Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden
However you like your gardens, this Staten Island oasis has you covered. What started as an English-style perennial garden grew into the peaceful Chinese Scholar’s Garden, with its pavilions, bamboo forest and Koi pond, and in 2011 a Tuscan garden was completed as well. Nestled in an 83-acre city park, this botanical garden doesn’t get the big crowds, but that’s part of the draw. And despite its Staten Island location, it’s easily accessible by public transport; it’s a quick bus ride on the S40 from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Richmond. Keep an eye out for springtime activities — in past years there’s been a Harbor in Bloom festival in May. 1000 Richmond Ter., 718-448-2500, snug-harbor.org
Neighborhood Community Gardens
There are more than 600 community gardens spread throughout the city that provide much needed greenery for city dwellers. Some are barely big enough to fit more than a few planters and a handful of people, but every bit counts. You’ll come across them all over Manhattan, with concentrations in the Lower East Side and East Harlem, and in Brooklyn and Queens as well (check out GreenThumb NYC for a searchable community garden map and database). A few highlights to seek out in the spring include Clinton Community Garden in Hell’s Kitchen (434 W. 48th St., no phone, clintongarden.org) and the Westside Community Garden (W. 89th Street, no phone, between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, westsidecommunitygarden.org), which hosts a tulip festival every April.
While the city parks and community gardens offer a curated experience, New York’s nature preserves offer an unbeatable way to see nature without human intervention. Even most New Yorkers don’t know that there are 51 preserved areas across the five boroughs. Highlights include the Van Cortlandt Park Preserve in the Bronx, which has more than 1,000 acres of forestland blooming with wildflowers, and Shorakapok Preserve in Inwood Hill Park, which has a valley that also fills with wildflowers — both in early spring. For maps and more info, see the NYC Parks site.
New York cemeteries
It might sound a bit morbid, but cemeteries offer a plenty of peace and green space for nature to show off her beauty. The 400-acre Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx (517 E. 233rd St., Bronx, 718-920-0500, thewoodlawncemetery.org) with its rolling hills and tree-lined drives and the 478-acre Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn (500 25th St., Brooklyn, 718-210-3080, green-wood.com) noted for its imposing Gothic Revival gates, hilly terrain and famous gravesites are both beautiful spots to take a stroll. Among the famous buried at Woodlawn are Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and Herman Melville; Green-Wood is the last resting place of Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Samuel Morse. In spring expect wildflowers popping up from the ground and trees bursting with buds to color the cemeteries’ serene landscapes.