Growing up in 1960s Edmonton, Alberta, where single family dwellings were plentiful, and back yards were a part of most childhoods, it took a trip to New York City in the mid-1990s to remind me that not every kid had access to lawns, gardens, swingsets, and next-door-neighbor friends.
My friend Angela introduced me to the term “play date,” which I found very pretentious until she explained its necessity: in the apartment culture of New York, where children have to be accompanied to outdoor play spaces, outings between young friends have to be planned, timed, and carried out between their parents.
I was reminded of this necessity on Good Friday when we visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a 30 minute subway ride from our hotel on the Upper West side of the city. I had been on cherry blossom watch via the Garden’s online map since before we left Edmonton, and it looked as though we were in luck. Although not all the trees were putting on a show yet, enough of them were blooming to make our trip worthwhile.
Of course, a sunny holiday Friday meant that lots of other people were arriving to enjoy the blossom spectacle. But unlike so many other places in NYC where crowds diminish the experience, the Garden has a less popular reputation and enough space that it can peacefully accommodate little kids running around, parents wheeling strollers and sipping take-out coffee, and elderly couples meandering along, with no one getting in anyone else’s way.
Dozens of different varieties of cherry tree grace the Cherry Esplanade, their blossoms ranging from hot pink to pastel to white, their branches sturdy and skyward-reaching, or cascading wispily on slender limbs. Lining the edge of the Japanese Pond and Garden are the weeping cherries, some of the oldest trees in the collection.
Like any other garden tour, this one can take as much or as little time as you care to spend. But I notice that no one seems to be hurrying towards the exit, a testament to the importance of these lovingly maintained, tranquil oases, and their calming influence on urban lives.