Spring is possibly the most beautiful season to be in New York. The air sparkles. Daffodils and tulips decorate the sidewalks, while hyacinths fill the air with their heady aroma. Trees burst into bloom in the parks, including varieties of cherry trees, the petals blowing on the breeze. Although cheery trees are scattered throughout the city (for example in Riverside Park north of 96th Street, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art and near Castle Clinton in Battery Park), there is no better place to experience them than at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Enter the park and you will find yourself magically transported to another world where the sounds of traffic mysteriously die away to be replaced by the sounds of birds, the wind rustling through the branches and pale pink and red cherry blossom petals floating around you,
Cherry trees were first planted in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens after World War I, a gift from Japan. Although there are fewer trees here than along the Mall in Washington DC or even Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey, the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden is one of the oldest Japanese-inspired gardens in the US.
Stroll slowly around the three-acre garden, a blend of the ancient “hill and pond garden style” and the more modern “stroll-garden style.” You will gradually discover many of the Zen elements that it encompasses. A stop at the viewing platform reveals the lake with its “floating” vermillion “torrii” or “gateway” in the middle of the water, where colored carp swim serenely In a traditional Japanese garden, the torii (which translates as “bird perch” symbolizes the transition from profane to sacred.
Follow the curved path beneath the clouds of pink, white and magenta cherry blossoms of over two dozen trees; small wooden bridges, one leading to a tiny island near the edge of the lake, edged with rocks, epitomize venerability. The bridge represents the passing from one world to another. On the side, a small waterfall, symbolizing the passing of time and purification, drops into the lake were painted turtles bask in the warm spring sun. Paths lead off to hidden rock outcrops or into smaller gardens. It is all very mysterious with surprises around every corner.
Behind the lake, a meadow with two allées of cherry trees forms the Cherry Esplanade. It is here that the annual “Sakura Matsuri” or Cherry Blossom festival takes place. It is the culmination of “Hanami,” the month-long celebration of the ancient Japanese tradition of “enjoying the beauty of the cherry blossoms.” Since time immemorial, cherry blossoms have been essential to every aspect of Japanese culture, symbolizing the fleeting nature of life.
At the Sakura Matsuri festival (normally held on the last weekend of April), the Brooklyn Botanical Garden celebrates Japanese culture with numerous activities including music and dance, “Ikebana” (flower arranging), Haiku poetry readings, tea ceremonies and much more. It is a must-see if you are living in or visiting New York.
Although the Cherry trees are the main attraction in the spring, be sure to visit the rest of the 52-acre gardens including the Shakespeare Garden with over 80 plants mentioned in the Great Bard’s plays and poems. The Steinhardt Conservatory with the Bonsai Museum, the three climate-themed plant pavilions and the white cast iron and glass aquatic plant house are also not to be missed.
As spring tempts you outside, a trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s cherry trees provides a glimpse of serenity and beauty amidst the modernity of New York City; but you have to be quick! Once blossomed, the beautiful flowers shed their petals, tossing them into the wind and they disappear …. until next year!
IF YOU GO
The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens are located near Grand Army Plaza, behind the Brooklyn Museum at 900 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY; tel 71-623-7200; go to www.bbg.org/discoer/cherries for a map detailing which trees are in bloom.
The gardens are closed on Mondays, open Tuesday to Friday, 0800 to 1800; Saturday and Sunday open 1000 to 1800. Although there is a small parking lot near the entrance, the easiest way to get her is to take the 2/3 train to Eastern Parkway. If these are not running, you can also take the 4/5 or the Q train.