Spending a week in New York I had a chance to visit a couple of Manhattan’s ‘off the beaten path’ parks. High Line Park opened last year, and has quickly become one of the the city’s more popular destinations. It is built on an old elevated railroad freight line that operated from the 1930s to 1980. I grew up right near it and remember looking up at the old tracks which ran a block parallel to the Hudson River, and wondered what mysteries were up there and how far those tracks might be able to take me (my hobo fantasies as a child were slightly delusional). Now I get to walk along this extraordinary greenway and look down upon the adjoining streets and avenues, and feel the cool breezes blow off the Hudson while enjoying the great views of the surrounding cityscape and river.
When I went there the other day, I was instantly amazed at how much growth had taken place since my last visit, shortly after it opened. Talking to a nearby groundskeeper, I found out that the park’s plant designer, Piet Oudolf, has been trying to evoke the look of a prairie, using as little trimming and pruning as possible. And so the long grasses sway with the winds and the overgrown shrubs and plants grow over the rusted train tracks and peek through the slits in the pavement that try to resemble them, and give the park a truly wild look. It is helped by the fact that over 60% of the plants are native to the area and many are drought tolerant as well.
The park runs from Gansevoort Street, located in the center of the trendy and grotesque Meat Packing district, to 20th street in Chelsea. This is just the first segment, which when completed will extend the linear parkway up to 34th Street. Go early on weekends or on weekdays as it gets very crowded, which really can distract from the beauty and serenity of the park.
The other park is not so much a park, but rather a garden within a park, it is the Conservatory Garden, located in Central Park at 105th Street and 5th Avenue. Built originally in 1898, it was restored to its present state in 1981. There is only one entrance, a large wrought iron gate that opens up to an expansive green lawn and fountain. In contrast to the wild growth of the High Line Park, the Conservatory Garden is an orderly assortment of manicured hedges and carefully designed walkways, bringing a small scale European garden feeling to Manhattan. Seasonal flowers bloom and an assortment of tended trees shade you along the paths. Several sculptures and fountains are placed at the two ends of the park, most notably the Three Dancing Maidens fountain by German sculptor Walter Schott.
This part of Central Park was not a place I spent a lot of time during my hanging out in Central park years, so I was almost shocked that this very un-New York like garden existed when I stumbled upon it ten years ago. Just North of it is the Harlem Meer a beautiful and tranquil lake (Meer means lake in Dutch), in the NE part of the park, with shoreline walkways, quacking ducks and a Queen Anne boathouse. It has since become one of my favorite places to eat lunch, which I get from a strange little concession stand just off its shore called the Knish Nosh, which sells amazingly good Kosher knishes and franks. Sadly to say I was informed that they have lost their lease and will shut their doors. But their knishes are so good, I would be remiss not to inform you that they still have another location at the boat pond at 74th Street and 5th Avenue.