A walk through a spring garden in New York during cherry blossom season at just the right time can be an exquisite experience, but sometimes personal schedules and the weather can throw off a well-timed visit. If you're slightly late, you're still lucky, because walking on the earth covered by millions of pink petals is the special and more surreal experience. Actually, a visit to a garden at other times of the year can be full of interest, even during the snow-covered days of botanical sleepiness. But the most welcome time for New York is early May. In the weeks following the average last frost in mid-April, petals unfurl, new shoots emerge from perennials, and the city becomes suddenly green again. In terms of seasons, New York is two different places - the one of fall and winter, and the other of spring and summer, and the emergence of one or the other feels like crossing over into a new country.
I highly recommend visiting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden after a visit to the Brooklyn Museum. After looking at art inspired by nature, and this week I visited the museum's Gustave Caillebotte exhibition, a walk through the garden affords a contemplation of how different artists picture nature. In Caillebotte's case, as with his fellow Impressionists, he was keen on painting how the light played on water, but he also framed his works with unusual perspectives, vanishing points, and a kind of cropping that's often associated with photography. After seeing his paintings, walk in the garden and then imagine framing scenes in similar fashion. A camera can be useful, but it's important to remember that artists who paint en plein air bring something to a work that photography often lacks - two eyes instead of one. Ah, but sometimes those eyes, like mine, can be a little near-sighted, throwing distant objects into abstract shapes.
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Because the Impressionists drew inspiration from Japanese aesthetics, the Japanese Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden seems most visually attuned with this school of art. More formal places in the Garden suggest Baroque or 17th century French art, while wilder sections are in sync with the Romantic. If you've been visiting Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party at the museum, you'll appreciate flowers in a whole new way. The ponds and pools are conducive for reflection and contemplation, but not just for narcissists. It's hard to miss the colorful koi fish just underneath, sometimes breaking the surface for a gulp of air or brushing up next to a carefree duck.
Practical matters. To visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (official website) from the Brooklyn Museum (official website), leave the museum's back door and walk across the parking lot to a nearby entrance. Purchase the Art and Garden ticket for admission to both. The 2 and 3 train stops at the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum station. Visit these websites for more information.
A New York Spring Calendar - Blooming Times, Seasonal Events, and Wildlife (2010)
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.