The DeWitt Clinton Rose Garden
She was not a real florist, but she played one on TV.
I almost didn’t visit this garden, after learning its name had nothing to do with Joyce Dewitt of Three’s Company, nor Hillary Clinton. To boot, the day was overcast and rain seemed imminent. However, I had been meaning to visit ever since seeing pictures of the place on facebook, and had mentioned to my friend who volunteers there that I would stop by that evening. Casting aside my reservations, I decided to give it a go. De Witt Clinton Park (actually named after the 19th century New York Governor responsible for the Erie Canal, not the woman who played a florist on a popular 80's sitcom), where the garden is located, stretches from 52nd to 54th streets between 11th avenue and the Westside Highway. A true urban park, it contains several playing fields in the center, a dog run, and a children’s playground. The garden, (or more accurately, series of adjacent gardens), borders its edge along three sides, separated from both the park and adjacent streets by tall iron fences. I wasn’t exactly certain where to begin. Entering the 52nd street end of things, I began walking along the perimeter.
The first garden sections seemed interesting enough, with stands of tulips, and a tree peony standing out.
I could not seem to locate the entrance to these gardens, nor did I see any trace of my friends. As I approached the gardens along the western perimeter of the park, things took a turn for the worse. The gardens appeared fallow and untended. Even the park entrances on this side of the park were closed off to pedestrians, lending this side of the park a somewhat desolate and derelict air.
Once I turned the bend and began to walk east along the 54th street side however, things began to brighten up considerably.
In stark contrast to the other gardens, the two individual plots here were immaculately tended. An open gate with a jacket hanging on it indicated that my friend might be in.
The actual entrance to this particular garden is near the park entrance at 54th street and 11th avenue. My friend, David Winterton, was in the midst of planting some helenium, but graciously showed me around and shared its history. The garden was created by, and cared for, an older man initially. Over time, he could no longer care for it. It entered a period of decline, becoming overgrown, filling with debris and litter. David was able to officially take over the space. The city has created a very forward thinking arrangement, where they provide the water, and maintain the fences, trees and gates. The stewards who adopt these gardens have a good deal of latitude picking the types of plants they want to have, and how to lay out and embellish the individual spaces. David enlisted some of his friends to help, and their achievements have been quite remarkable. To get a full sense of the garden’s transformation, and the beauty of the place, check out the photos on its facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/DeWitt-Clinton-Park-Rose-Garden/218565444821473
While the term “urban oasis” is overused these days, this spot truly fit that description. Tucked in this corner of Hells Kitchen (or Clinton, depending on where you fall in gentrification spectrum of things), it beckons the passerby to pause, leave behind the surrounding noise and concrete, relax, and smile. Metal trellises, a planter and a small diamond shaped “paving quilt” help define and break up the long, narrow space. An irregularly laid path meanders through it, adding a touch of informality.
Cultivated under the high, light canopy of the park’s trees, many of the plants are shade tolerant, although a gap created by a tree removed allows a spot for sun loving perennials. The day I visited happened to fall in between peak bloom times, but there was still plenty of color and texture to be observed.
The garden is zealously tended by its small, dedicated group of volunteers. If you happen to be in that area of midtown, or are looking for an enchanting spot to discover, I would encourage you to visit. If the gate is open, and people are there, feel free to go in. The volunteers are very friendly and happy to share the spot with others. If interested, they can always use another pair of hands to help. For those particularly inspired, there are also those untended stretches of garden along the western perimeter, begging to be similarly adopted.