The Conservatory Gardens are an oasis within an oasis--Manhattan's holy of holies. When the rest of Central Park is bustling with bike-riders, kite-fliers, and ball-players, you can retreat into the Gardens where only bench-sitting and flower-smelling is allowed. There is a formality to these Gardens not present elsewhere in the park epitomized by the stately Vanderbilt Gate marking the entrance. Here, flowers are carefully tended, trees are lovingly pruned, and the grass manicured. It is a beautiful and serene spot, but it is the effortful beauty of a strictly domesticated nature.

Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow
- Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

What You Will See

The Gardens are divided into three distinct sections, each styled after a major European tradition. To the south is the quaint English garden with neatly trimmed borders. This area is home to a charming fountain depicting the characters from The Secret Garden. To the north is a formal garden in the French tradition, home to a variety of Japanese and Korean flowers. A sculpture of three girls dancing adorns the central fountain. Separating these two is the grand Italian garden, with large columns, a grand open lawn, and an opulent fountain. Explore all three, and then grab an open bench in your favorite.

Why You Should Go

Outside of wedding photographers and overflow from nearby museums, relatively few Central Park visitors make the journey north to visit the gardens. It is not difficult to find a secluded spot to enjoy a casual afternoon. However, visitors to this formal garden are rewarded with a deeper appreciation of the rest of the wild, rugged, democratic park. The Conservatory Gardens are a reminder of the old-world traditions rejected by a young America. Europe built parks at the pleasure of the aristocracy. New York built a park for everyone. Visit the Gardens to see what Central Park could have been with a less enlightened design.

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