By Meg A. Parsont
Fireflies have made their debut in Central and Riverside Parks, the roses are a riot of color in the Joan of Arc Park and the gardens by the Riverside Park clay tennis courts, and tens of thousands of people gathered on the Great Lawn in Central Park to hear the Philharmonic earlier this week — all happy signs that summer is upon us. June 21 is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, and the community gardens of the Upper West Side are getting into full summer mode.
In the 91st Street Garden on the Promenade level of Riverside Park, orange, pink, and scarlet (Lilium Night Flyer) lilies are budding and blooming in many of the plots. There are also clusters of golden Stella D’Oro lilies around the perimeter of the Octagon and in several of the plots near the garden gate. Astilbe, a perennial with graceful feathery flowers, has made an appearance throughout the garden in hues of crimson, mauve, and white.
In the Octagon, look for the palest purple climbing clematis, and in the Rectangle, you can’t miss its spectacular amethyst-colored cousin.
While you’re there, be sure to take a moment to say hello to the Julia Child rose by the entrance. Julia Child loved butter and it’s only fitting that this rose is a perfect butter yellow!
Another welcome sign of summer is hydrangeas. In the north end of the Octagon, look for the pale purple Lacecap (Hydrangea macropylla), with its flat caps and ornate, frilly edges. The center disk is made up of tiny, short flowers surrounded by showier, lacy flowers. The garden is home to several other types of hydrangea including the fluffy, long-lasting white blooms along the western edge of the rectangle. In the right conditions, these can grow remarkably quickly: a tiny cutting that I planted in my plot two summers ago is now over three feet high, and covered with oversized blooms!
In the Lotus Garden on 97th Street, everything tends to be behind by a week or so, as it is much shadier there than the 91st Street Garden or the West Side Community Garden. Most of their lilies are just getting started, with the exception of the miniature jewel-like lilies in the easternmost plot, the red with yellow “Lilium Arabian Knight” (Martagon Lily).
The pink bell-shaped campanula is still flourishing, including Campanula Posharskyana (Serbian Bellflower) which grows close to the ground, and Campanula rotundifolia ‘Olympica,’ aka the Bells of Scotland.
Bellflowers are a popular perennial, and this particular species is especially loved in Scotland, where many poems and songs affectionately refer to it.
Keep an eye out for lovely pale purple clematis and white clematis, including one that was purchased at Trader Joe’s and has been successfully repurposed from a houseplant to an outdoor garden plant. And more roses continue to bloom daily, including the ivory-yellow Lark Ascending and yellow Graham Thomas.
In the West Side Community Garden, perennials and recently-planted annuals have filled in the beds where tulips used to reign supreme. Lilies are making their first appearance, along with astilbe, hydrangeas, and bright red bee balm (Monarda), a native plant that is a big draw for pollinators.
There are also two stunningly curated beds of impatiens and caladium (a gorgeously toned and patterned foliage plant) in shades of hot pink and green near the 89th Street entrance.
The path leading to the 90th Street entrance is flanked by dramatic white oak leaf hydrangeas and fluffy white hydrangeas interspersed among the red roses. And tucked into a niche on the path is a bright red hibiscus which has just come into bloom. I was amazed to see that the understated, off-white hellebore is still blooming in several of the plots. This perennial is one of the first to appear in late February/early March, and wins the prize for longest-blooming flower in the garden.
With so many plants on the brink of bursting forth in full bloom, this is a great time to visit the community gardens on the Upper West Side. Happy summer, all!
The 91st Street Garden was just featured on New York Live, WNBC-TV. Watch it here.
Plan a visit:
The West Side Community Garden (89-90th Streets, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues)
Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk
Concerts in the Garden – Mark your calendar:
June 19 from 6-7 pm: Federico Diáz Argentenian duo, voice/guitar
June 26 from 6-7 pm: Scot Munson Jazz Quintet
The Lotus Garden (97th Street between West End Avenue and Broadway)
Open to the public on Sunday afternoons between 1-4 pm, from April 10-mid-November
The 91st Street Garden on the Promenade level of Riverside Park
Open 7 days/week from dawn to dusk