It was the end of a long, warm, in-love-with-NYC spring day, but the New York Botanical Garden’s website promised carpets of bluebells, and so we went.
Question to the ticket taker: Do you know anything about where the bluebells might be? Ticket taker, sullenly, no (it was the end of a long day, after all). Question to guy wearing NYBG ball cap: Do you have any idea where the bluebells are? Answer: Another person just asked me that, but she was talking about the bluebells at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, not this one. Question to NYBG employee number 3: Any idea where the bluebells are? His edifying answer: Oh, they pop up once in a while, but the Garden doesn’t do anything to cultivate them.
Oh. Gil said, Let’s go to the Ladies’ Border, see what they’ve got.
The Ladies’ Border is remotely located at the northeastern side of the Conservatory and we were the only ones there. It had just about everything except bluebells. Different varieties of iris, eye-popping and more demure.
An exotic plant called a leatherleaf mahonia.
Something white and fragrant.
I am not sure what distinguished this as the Ladies’ Border. Yes, the vegetation was as lush, aromatic, exotic and fascinating as most of the ladies I know. I could see a few of us strolling along the border with parasols, spreading evil rumors about some of the men we know. I’ve been reading Anthony Trollope, and the Ladies’ Garden could have jumped out of some of the great satirist’s pages. Actually, it was designed and created by landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman in 1920.
It was getting late. We headed for the exit. And there they were, suddenly, with no helpful identifying placard: the carpet of bluebells, vivid beneath a massive old hackberry tree. They had “popped up” by the parking lot, and nobody but us was paying them any mind. They were a surprise, like all precious things.
I wanted to hear Emmy Lou Harris and Willie Nelson sing so plaintively on Gulf Coast Highway, a song that references another blue flower, the bluebonnet of Texas. I think I thought that’s what I was going to see at NYBG. The duet tells the story of “this old house here by the road” and the couple that spend their life there, and the chorus repeats:
And when we die
We say we’ll catch some blackbird’s wing
We will fly away to heaven
Come some sweet blue bonnet spring
So sad, so beautiful. The Texas blue bonnet was named for its shape, which resembled the bonnets worn by hardworking pioneer women to shield their faces from the sun. How would they have liked the Ladies’ Border or the bluebells we finally found?