The flowering trees of Riverside Park

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Posted May 3, 2022 7:05 PM by West Side Rag

A webinar with Margaret Bracken, landscape architect for Riverside Park

Redbud, Riverside Drive @ 95th street. Photographs by Meg A. Parsont.

By Meg A. Parson

On April 27, The Bloomingdale’s Neighborhood History Group hosted “More than Cherries: The Flowering Trees of Riverside Park,” a webinar with Margaret Bracken, the landscape architect of Riverside Park. The webinar took place the day after what would have been Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday, which is fitting because it was Olmsted who had the grand vision for the park and was the genius behind some of its most enduring features. .

Here is a preview of the webinar. The link to this one is at the end of the story.

First, Ms. Bracken presented a concise history of Riverside Park, tracing its various layers from its beginnings in the 1880s and the schematic design of Frederick Law Olmsted to its expansion when Robert Moses became Commissioner of the Parks System. combined in 1934.

To put into perspective the epic scope of the creation of Riverside Park, Bracken explained that it was built entirely from scratch in an area where there were previously farms. When they blasted bedrock in the early stages of construction, they saved and reused the material in a very “green” and forward-thinking process, creating the mica schist retaining wall that exists today.

The naturalistic style created by Olmsted gave way at the turn of the century to a more formal and classical style of landscape architecture. Then when Robert Moses arrived he saw the potential to capitalize on the west side waterfront and doubled the size of the park. Today, Riverside Park spans 327 acres.

Crabapple galore, Riverside Park @ 94th Street.

After walking webinar attendees through the various stages of Riverside Park’s development, Ms. Bracken then delved into the park’s natural beauty, focusing on its flowering trees. Riverside Park is one of the few designated tourist sites in New York City and one of Ms. Bracken’s goals is to preserve the integrity of the entire park.

In 1909, Japanese citizens planned to donate 2,000 cherry trees to the city, but unfortunately the steamer carrying the trees from Japan sank. Another boat was sent to New York with 2,000 more trees, which were successfully planted in what is now Sakura Park in Morningside Heights. The cherry trees are very hardy and withstand even harsh conditions right on the waterfront, but they only live to a maximum of 40 years. Thus, none of the cherry trees currently present in the park date from the Olmsted or Moses eras.

Kwanzan Cherry and Profusion Crabapple, Riverside Park @ 93rd Street.

Nearly 13,000 trees were planted during the two years of Riverside Park’s construction between 1935 and 1937. Today, there are three species of cherry trees in Riverside Park: White Okame are the first to bloom from mid -March. Next to bloom are the Yoshino, which are the cherry trees with the most generous spread and the palest pink flowers. Finally, there is the Kwanzan Cotton Candy Pink, Double Flower, which is in full bloom right now. The cherry trees in Sakura Park are mature Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry trees, probably planted in the 1980s.

In the 1930s, crabapple trees were likely planted as a buffer between Riverside Park and Henry Hudson Parkway. Although prone to powdery mildew and other detrimental conditions, crabapple trees are very hardy and live longer than cherry trees: typically 50 to 80 years. Some can even live to be 100 years old!

Crabapple varieties currently growing in Riverside Park are the white-flowered columnar Red Jewel, the deep pink Profusion, and the honey-scented Floribunda, with its distinctive multi-stemmed shape. Ms Bracken has the 1930s planting plans for large areas of the park, and although the park cannot always buy the same species that were originally planted, they have obtained trees with the same pattern multi-stem growth. from an Illinois nursery. (Most other trees are “standard” with a single trunk.)

Kwanzan Cherry, Riverside Park @ 93rd Street.

In bloom now:
• Kwanzan cherry trees: shiny bark with horizontal linear cuts and double cotton candy pink flowers
• Floribunda crabapples: irregular bark texture, multi-stemmed shape, magenta buds that open into pale pinkish-white flowers with a pleasant fragrance.
• Crabapples galore: irregular bark texture, generous expanses of dark pink flowers
• Redbud: Redbud is unique in that the buds are directly on the stem. Typically, the clusters of tiny magenta buds open into pink flowers, but the redbud is also white, as can be seen around the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial. Pink redbud can be seen all around the park.
• Native dogwood with pink flowers

Coming soon:
• Japanese pink flowering dogwood
• Black locust: very large trees with lightly scented flowers
• Hawthorn: RSP’s unsung hero, according to Margaret Bracken. Magnificent delicate pale flowers that are particularly beautiful juxtaposed next to the red horse chestnut, which tends to bloom at the same time. Look for a hawthorn on the West 74th Street Lawn.
• Linden Trees: large flowering trees with a pleasant, fresh scent along Riverside Drive
• Tuiliers: very large trees with greenish-yellow flowers that grow high in the tree. Look for one at 107th Street.

The webinar is available for viewing here.

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