Street Level NYC: Bow Tie Parks

Tue, 04/06/2013 - 13:46
Flowering Dogwood by Derek Ramsey
Flowering Dogwood by Derek Ramsey

…..from Dogwoods to Sumacs

Over the next three weeks, I will be wandering where the wildflowers are in each of the five boroughs of New York: Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island, and exploring the community gardens and city farms, a few of which are several stories in the air. But this week, I will be at street level.

When I first flew into New York City at the end of May, I flew into wet weather. It was cold not at all what I expected. I met up with Jo Foster, one of the directors of River of Flowers, who now lives in Jackson Heights, Queens, and she talked about the cold spring and how May was more like April. The flowering of the Dogwoods had come and gone in a couple of weeks, blink and you missed it. There had been a few mellow days when everything had either turned green or began emerging but then the cold weather kicked everything into submission, back to laying in wait for the next warm day.


Queens Plaza © Nathan Kensinger

Only the next day was cold and wet but Jo and I ventured out anyway, travelling from Queens on the bus to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, furthest north of the borough. After journeying along the Northern Boulevard, we changed buses close to Queens Plaza to get to Greenpoint. Queens Plaza is an unusual 'bow tie' park, more like a multi stranded, slightly mangled and crazed cravat. As we descended, a jagged mouth bristling with toothed concrete shards emerged out from under the elevated subway tracks and caught my attention as we negotiated several main lanes of roadway. 

Queens Plaza © Nathan Kensinger

Queen’s Plaza, a former snarl of non-stop traffic, elevated trains and pot-holed roads, reeking of urban decay had undergone a ‘makeover’, orchestrated by architect Margie Ruddick and her team. They planted ‘tens of thousands of plants into this urban tangle’ as she puts it, and created a linear park called 'Dutch Kills Green' where almost 500 trees, including Hornbeams, now flourish. As Ms Ruddick recalls, ‘the butterflies came in very soon after we did this’. 

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) © Ava Chin for The New York Times

Ms Ruddick appears to be a person after my own heart because as well as planting trees and welcoming the butterflies, she approves of Sumac - sometimes unappealingly categorised as a ‘super weed’ - and its creamy or rosy spikes of flowers or of ruby red fruit seen peeping through the concrete slabs on one strip under the elevated subway. In some countries sumac is ground and used as a spice, and steeped in ice cold water, sumac berries make a refreshing summer drink. The North American varieties of Smooth Sumac and Staghorn Sumac are abundant in pollen and nectar, and the bees adore it. 

At last, something for the pollinators in the ‘super urban environment’!

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typina) © Homer Edwards Price



Flowering Dogwood © Derek Ramsey

Read more: 

In Queens, An Artistic Alteration 

New York Curbed: Camera Obscura