I was reading up on things to do in the city and one item caught my eye: a waterfront garden tour on Randalls Island. I don’t think I’ve stepped foot on the island before though I might have once, a very, very long time ago. Unlike Roosevelt Island to the south, Randalls Island is more difficult to get to; there isn’t a train or tram stop anywhere and the most direct way to get across is via a footbridge that connects it to Manhattan at 103nd Street. (There are also bridges that connect from the Bronx and Queens as well.)
There are tours Tuesdays and Thursdays around the Island every week; the first one that worked with my schedule was the Waterfront Garden tour held every other Thursday. I tried to time my travel so I would arrive with a few minutes to spare before the tour began but the subway delays and the roundabout route from the train station to the East River was very annoying because the streets are cut off by the public housing projects in the area so one has to go around them. I arrived about 5 minutes after it started and one of the park staff stationed at the meeting spot helped me to meet up with the group. A few other people arrived even later than I did, so I didn’t feel too bad. In all, there were about maybe six or seven of us, and the woman who met me earlier came along as well; the two of us were the youngest members of the tour.
The tour was led by the head gardener, a man named Kevin. He led up north along the Harlem River Pathway, stopping every so often and pointing out the different flora that made up the interesting landscape that bordered and explaining why certain plants were being grown in those areas and what worked and what didn’t. We also had some very knowledgeable people with us, including two women who were visitors from Virginia that run a nursery back home.
We walked as far as approximately 113th or 114th street across the river before turning southward. The tour was supposed to last an hour though it did run slightly longer but it didn’t matter that much. Overall, I thought it was pretty interesting and I enjoyed looking all the different trees and plants that grew along that stretch of land. We saw a lot of bees (in various colors; I never saw golden/orange bees before) as well as butterflies.
The shady parts were the nicest because it kept us cool but the views and the sun were wonderful too. We could see all the cars traveling along the East River Drive across from us but it was nice to not hear them (or not so loudly) since the water separated us. And the views were pretty spectacular, depending on where one looked. It was very relaxing and for the most part pretty empty, which is nice for those that want to relax and enjoy peace and quiet while remaining close to the heart of the city. The weekend might be less so, especially with the events being held on the north side of the island, where there’s the big stadium for concerts and other things.
I think I’m going to try to check out the Wildflower Tour as well, which is held on alternating Thursdays. There is a Wetlands Tour which I would really like to check out but that’s on Tuesday evenings so it doesn’t work too well with my schedule. I highly recommend checking out any of these tours if one has the time while the weather is still lovely and warm.