Destination Flowers: What’s Blooming on the Upper West Side

Cherry blossom season on the Upper West Side. Photograph by Meg Parsont.

By Meg Parsont

After what has felt like an endless winter in so many ways, spring is finally upon us! The magnolia trees are getting ready to burst into bloom in the islands dividing Broadway, groves of cherry trees have graced us with their presence in Central and Riverside Parks, and daffodils are everywhere.

I help tend the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park (aka The Garden People Garden or the “You’ve Got Mail” Garden), and my fellow gardeners and I have noticed that visitors have become much more connected to the garden over the past couple of years. Whether it’s because people are working from home and have more time to visit or because they are seeking a natural sanctuary, our green spaces play an essential role in our community.

Judy Robinson, President of the West Side Community Garden, reflects that “People are especially grateful for the garden now, in response to Covid restrictions over the past two years. We’re all longing for the chance to relax, feel comfortable, and be surrounded by beauty.”

Louise Kindley, Membership Chair of the Lotus Garden on 97th Street, receives notes from community members expressing their gratitude for this quiet, peaceful place. She says, “My guess is that the pandemic has made people more aware of the need to quite literally ‘stop and smell the roses.’”

So many visitors to our gardens ask, “What’s new in the garden?” This bi-weekly column will provide a glimpse into what’s happening now in the Lotus Garden, the West Side Community Garden, and the 91st Street Garden. Mother Nature can be unpredictable, but we’ll try to focus on what’s in or approaching peak bloom. There are other lovely pockets of green throughout the Upper West Side, so be sure to check them out, too.

Daffodils in 91st Street Garden. Photograph by Meg Parsont.

For many of us, the arrival of daffodils is the first sign of spring, and we have hosts of golden daffodils (with thanks to William Wordsworth!) in all three community gardens, as well as daffodils with deep orange centers and delicate pale yellow blooms.

Rock garden in 91st Street Garden. Photograph by Meg Parsont.

The rock garden plot in the rectangle portion of the 91st Street Garden has some lovely miniature daffodils nestled among purple Siberian Squill.

Fun Floral Fact:

What’s the difference between daffodils, jonquils, and Narcissus?

• Daffodils and jonquils all fall under the botanical name of Narcissus.
• The foliage of daffodils is spear-shaped while the foliage of jonquils is rounded.
• Jonquils tend to grow in warmer regions

Smarty Plants:

What play by an American playwright refers to jonquils?
(Answer will appear in our next column on April 22)


Hellebore in 91st Street Garden. Photograph by Meg Parsont.

Other flowers bloom before daffodils as the true harbingers of spring, but they are often less familiar. Hellebore or Lenten rose typically appears in late winter at a time when we most need a reminder that spring is truly on the way! It has a wonderfully long season, and is flourishing now in all three community gardens in varying shades of white, mauve, and raspberry. Look for hellebore in groupings fairly low to the ground.

Dwarf Irises in Lotus Garden. Photograph by Shanna Forlano.

Another early bloomer is the dwarf iris, which has the classic markings and vibrant coloration of its more statuesque cousin, only in miniature. The Lotus Garden is home to a lovely patch of these beauties, known by the grand name of Iris Reticulata Katharine Hodgkin.

Elderberries in Lotus Garden. Photograph by Shanna Forlano.

The Lotus Garden also has some flowering shrubs we don’t often see in the city, including an elderberry bush that, as far as their gardeners know, has never fruited—at least not yet!

The West Side Community Garden is known for its spectacular array of tulips, and while the majority of them will be blooming starting in mid-April, keep an eye out for early bloomers now. In a few weeks, the Lotus Garden and the 91st Street Community Garden will have a generous display of tulips, as well.

Photographs by Meg Parsont.

The West Side Community Garden is also home to several cherry trees that are in full bloom now, and to the pink perennial herbaceous plant Corydalis (below), which you will find in a bed near the northernmost cherry tree.

Corydalis in West Side Community Garden. Photograph by Meg Parsont.

In the 91st Street Community Garden, be sure to look for low mounds of magenta heather, pink creeping phlox, and other subtle yet colorful signs that spring has finally arrived!

Plan a Visit:

The West Side Community Garden (89-90 Streets, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues)
Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk

The Lotus Garden (97th Street between WEA and Broadway)
Open to the public on Sunday afternoon, between 1-4 p.m., from April 10-mid November

The 91st Street Garden on the Promenade level of Riverside Park
Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 10 comments | permalink
    1. M says:

      Thank you for this article highlighting all the natural beauty around the UWS. This winter has been incredibly difficult and depressing, so it’s a welcome relief that spring is finally upon us. Here’s to many bright days ahead!

    2. Lizzie says:

      Reminder to dog lovers: please don’t let your dogs pee on garden plants, whether in tree pits or in our parks! Urine is really hard on plants, and your dog isn’t the only one doing this. I tend a tree pit garden, and all the plants on the edges turn yellow from the pee. Plus, it’s really gross that gardeners have to deal with urine-soaked gardens while we work. Thanks!

    3. Sally F says:

      I love these three gardens! I enjoyed this article and itIs photos and look forward to more!

    4. David says:

      And, if you’re on your way downtown, stop by the rose garden in DeWitt Clinton Park (54th & 11th). It’s a 300 foot long garden on the northeast corner of the park. There are some 60 roses in it. I started it in 2001, I’ve gotten a couple of helpers in the last two years. Nothing whiles away the time like chores in the garden…utterly intoxicating.
      David Tillyer

    5. Lynn says:

      A grea idea. Thank you!

    6. B. J. Rahn says:

      This column is a wonderful idea!! Just the reminder I need as well as anticipated FAQs. Would it be possible to include the center islands on Broadway which hold an amazing variety of flowers and foliage throughout the seasons?

    7. Jody Prusan says:

      Love this article
      Will there be more?
      Love the photos too

    8. Jill says:

      Wonderful column and great meeting you this weekend!

    9. Marti Malovany says:

      Great article, Meg!

    10. Betty Samuels says:

      Thank u for identifying flowers so I know what I am looking at.