A highlight of the current Lincoln Center Theatre production of Camelot comes at the beginning of the second act, when Lancelot (a magnificent Jordan Donica) sings “If ever I would leave you.” When walking through Central Park lately, I have been singing (inside my head, not aloud!):
If ever I would leave you
How could it be in springtime?
Knowing how in spring I’m bewitched by you so?
Spring in Central Park is bewitching, indeed. After the austere beauty of bare tree branches creating stark contrast with the greyish winter sky, against hard brown soil, it seems that in mid-March and through April into early May, the park becomes vibrant seemingly overnight with carpets of flowers and spectacular flowering trees. The juxtaposition of the glories of nature with the iconic Manhattan skyscrapers and stately apartment buildings is truly unique and makes Central Park a very special place to experience in spring.
Flowers that grow from bulbs show up first – generally cheery daffodils are the harbinger of the spring blooming, followed later by tulips. Later you can find black-eyed Susans, violets, and bluebells.
Cherry blossom season is famous in Japan and in Washington DC, and there are terrific cherry blossoms in both the Bronx and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. But Central Park is underrated, I think – cherry blossom season in the park is unforgettable! Most of the cherry trees in the park were a gift from Japan in the early 1900s, and there are three main types: Okame, Yoshino, and Kwanzan. For instance, look for Kwanzan on the east side of the Reservoir, Yoshino near Pilgrim Hill on the east side near 73rd Street, and Okame on the west side of the Reservoir. Okame are the first to bloom and are deep pink. Yoshino bloom next and are so pale they are almost white (I have been walking beneath these when the blossoms are being blown off by the wind and it looks like you are in a warm weather blizzard!). Kwanzan bloom latest and are thicker clusters of bright pink. The timing varies each year depending on the temperature and precipitation, but once a tree has bloomed, the blooms are only on the tree for 7-10 days (and can come off all at once if there is a rainstorm or high winds). The transience of this beauty makes the experience of being around it even more magical and meaningful. When the cherry blossoms first begin to bloom, the branches of most trees are still bare, but by the time the last of the cherry blossoms fall, the park has greened with pale new leaves and bright spring grass everywhere you look.
Most years there is little or no overlap between the timeline of the three types of cherry blossoms, so use this as a general guide:
Okame Cherry Blossom Dates: Mid March (most already gone as I post this)
Yoshino Cherry Blossom Dates: Beginning / Mid April (ending now)
Kwanzan Cherry Blossom Dates: End of April / Early May (coming soon)
To see a few videos I have posted of cherry blossoms in the Park, check out this one, this one just behind the Met Museum, or this one next to the Reservoir. Also, for a more formal garden experience, the Central Park Conservatory Garden at Fifth between 104th and 106th Streets is particularly stunning in spring.
If it sounds like spring is my favorite season in Central Park, it is – at least right now! On a sultry summer evening coming back from Shakespeare in the Park, a spectacular autumn day with the fall foliage ablaze, or after a gorgeous fresh winter snowfall, those seasons will then be my favorites. As the song eventually decides, I agree that in my love for Central Park:
Oh, no! Not in springtime!
Summer, winter or fall!
No, never could I leave you at all!