Way back in the 70’s I was a student in Plant Science at University of Delaware. Two of my classmates were Susan D’Innocenzo (now Susan Brutico) and Doug Blonsky. Susan now teaches plant materials at Longwood and works in visitor services at Chanticleer and Doug is the CEO of the Central Park Conservancy in New York City. We had a little reunion last week and got a fascinating insiders tour of Central Park. New Yorkers and visitors love Central Park as a great escape from the bustle of NY City, but it is also a great garden destination. Over 150 years ago, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux designed this amazing park in the heart of Manhattan.
Doug started working in Central Park in 1985 when it was filled with drug dealers and addicts. He has seen and been significantly responsible for its current renaissance. He took us up to the northern end of the park and showed us the recent renovation of The Ravine. This area had become choked with vegetation, views obliterated and water sat stagnant until Doug’s team of landscape architects, conservancy gardeners and volunteers began the arduous process of clearing out unwanted plants, removing sludge, restabilizing banks and planting many wonderful native plants. We walked under an arch (The Huddleston Arch) made of massive boulders of Manhattan schist. Doug told us the story of the day in 1865 when the interior scaffolding was removed and the work crew witnessed
Vaux’s brilliant engineering as the arch stood strong with the stones “huddling” against one another.
It is easy to forget you are in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world as you listen to the sound of water flowing over stones and birds chirping. Charming woodland paths and rustic bridges lead you to a natural swamp that provides a great stopover for those birds as they rest along one of the major north/south flyways.
The Mall in Central Park is lined with American elms, some old ones that have survived Dutch elm disease and many Dutch elm disease resistant varieties planted more recently. It is reminiscent of the UD green, without the academic buildings outside the path. Each elm has asters planted at its base to protect the trunk from sloppy lawn mower operators—a strategy that could be used in many other public landscapes. Some of the park trees have unmowed grasss at their bases, another good way to protect their trunks without ringing each tree in a circle of mulch.
Wandering the park after we left Doug to the rest of his busy day, Susan and I talked to the gardener of the Dene slope as she worked with volunteers to weed the newly established meadow and make room for a new planting of native bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia).
Earlier in the day (at about 6 AM) I joined hundreds (maybe thousands) of runners, walkers and cyclists all using the park for healthy exercise. Later, we saw mothers pushing strollers and toddlers scampering on playgrounds equipment as others gathered for a pleasant conversation as their dogs romped in the dog park. It was a far cry from the scary, drug-ridden park of the not-so-distant past. Central Park in New York City is definitely worth a visit!