Spring – it’s the time of year that evokes images of sunshine, rainbows, bunny rabbits and … the Bronx? Admittedly, the screeching wheels of the 4 train or a not-too-subtle expletive on the Mosholu Parkway do not come to mind when thinking of spring. And yet, the Bronx, or more specifically, the New York Botanical Garden, is one of the very best places to be during this colorful season.
First, you should drive – it’s probably between 45 minutes and 1.25 hours, depending on where you live and when you’re traveling. Let Waze (or your navigation app of choice) guide the way.
While this city institution is by no means a secret, it does sit in the zebra-striped shadow of The Bronx Zoo – it’s just five minutes away. But there are no gorillas and no giraffes in the Garden. So why would anyone go there over its bestial cousin next door?
The fact is, when you know what to look for and, more importantly, when to look for it, the Garden is one of the very best sites to see in New York City (fun facts: the 250-acre garden is the largest in any city in the United States and it’s a National Historic Landmark). It’s a perfect getaway for families and singles, and it makes for one nice Instagram pic. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Garden is just down the street from a plate full of pasta and a side dish of pignoli cookies, but more on that later.
Remember, it’s a seasonal thing
Okay, you’re not a botanical expert. That’s okay. The first step towards appreciating the Garden is understanding the seasons (plant geeks, talk amongst yourselves for this part). Timing your trip can mean all the difference between a standard day and a floral paradise.
Visit the gardens in the spring for cherry blossoms and magnolias. Later in the season, you should return for azaleas or peonies. Later still, you can enjoy the sunflowers and rudbeckia in the Native Plant Garden.
If you’re not sure when things bloom, know that mid to late spring is ideal for the really good stuff. Specifically, May and June (the months of this issue) are absolutely perfect to spot the vast dogwoods, lilacs, roses and much more. Also be aware that as quickly as blooms arrive, they go, and it’s just as fast – usually in the span of a few days. Sooner is almost always better than later in these cases.
Chart a course
It’s easy to enter the Garden and start wandering without a plan. The rolling hills of flowers and evergreens are alluring, and it’s relaxing to stroll among them without a thought. However, just like any visit to a zoo or amusement park, it’s best to plan your route so you can see the right stuff at the right time.
It’s also helpful to realize that not everything is everywhere. Landscape design is an art and a science. Each section of the Garden is carefully plotted out based on sunlight, weather, neighboring plant life and other factors. The result is that you won’t find azaleas and rhododendrons around every corner. Each plant has its own specific spot within the Garden. Find out what’s in bloom and then map out the best route to get there, hitting a few other colorful stops along the way.
What to see in May and June
A quick visit to the Garden website shows what’s in bloom and what isn’t. It’s always a great idea to give it a quick glance before your trip so that you know where to go and what to look for. Of course you can also ask the staff upon arrival if you want the scoop.
Roses are the queen this time of year. The New York Botanical Garden boasts one of the very best rose gardens anywhere, with rows and rows of roses in reds, pinks, whites, yellows, purples and more.
The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden centers around an ornate pergola – climbing roses adorn all angles of the structure, with long walking paths branching out from each side in the shape of a sunburst. It’s a truly spectacular site, with an enormous number of different roses represented, including several hybrids and brand-new varieties.
Another special stop at this time of year in the Garden is the Burn Family Lilac Collection. Conveniently located adjacent to the Rose Garden, this collection of lilacs features winding trails of fragrant blooms in hues of purple, pink, indigo and more.
Peonies also flourish in May, with their easily recognizable ruffled petals bursting forth. The Garden’s gorgeous presentation lines the pathways around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, which makes for a great stroll on your way to some of the greenhouse presentations that the Garden constantly arranges.
Once inside the Conservatory, there are countless varieties of monsteras, cacti, bromeliads and more. This impressive structure often requires an additional entry ticket, but it is more than worth it to see the dozen or so intricate indoor and outdoor spaces. Each room hosts an array of exotic plants hailing from South America to Asia and everywhere in between (orchids are typically on display from March through April). The Conservatory is also a spot for the Garden’s frequent art exhibitions, which have included the works of Chiluhy, Kusama and others.
Time to eat
When you’ve had your fill of petals and butterflies, it’s time to eat. While the Garden has a cafe, quick snacks and a fine dining restaurant on the property, don’t forget about the Italian delicacies just across the street.
Think of Arthur Avenue as the real Little Italy. This vibrant neighborhood is rich in history and culture, with fun shopping options from Italian delis to butcher shops and bakeries. There are quick dining options for pizza and sandwiches of all kinds, along with fine dining choices for romantic evenings and family gatherings.
The old reliable is Pugsley Pizza. Located right around the corner from Fordham University, it’s a local favorite with a colorfully-decorated courtyard and dining room. Good for indoor and outdoor meals, Pugsley is the neighborhood pizzeria that names a large portion of the menu after friends, family and the nearby college intelligentsia.
For those white-box pastries, stop by Artuso Pastry Shop, which has a vast array of jellied, sprinkled and powdered treats. Pignoli cookies are a safe choice, but anyone with taste buds will find their favorite snack.
Tino’s Delicatessen is the place to go for sliced meats, fresh mozzarella and those hard-to-find Italian imported sweets. Grab a sandwich and some burrata, and pick up some of their very special Datterini tomatoes for good measure.
As for dinner, it would be a novice mistake to name the very best restaurant on the street. Whether it’s Mario’s Restaurant, Pasquale’s Rigoletto, MichaelAngelo’s Restaurant or anywhere in between, you can choose a great many dining options with confidence. Pick a spot, have a drink and enjoy a relatively tourist-free evening.
Springtime in the Bronx
Trust us on this one. Spring is beautiful in the Bronx. From a floral paradise to a dining delight, there is plenty for family and friends in this neighborhood. Bring a camera (or your phone) and an empty stomach, as you will certainly need both.
Artuso Pastry Shop
670 E 187th Street, Bronx
2342 Arthur Avenue Bronx
2477 Arthur Avenue
2311 Arthur Avenue
590 E 191st Street, Bronx
2410 Arthur Avenue, Bronx
This article was published in the May/June 2023 print edition of Katonah Connect.