By Joanna Hishon
The four of us – 2 grownies and 2 kids – bundled up and headed up to the New York Botanical Gardens on December 27th to see the Holiday Train Show. I’d been meaning to visit the NYBG since relocating to New York two years ago, yet never managed to get there. I’m glad we made the trek up to the Bronx over the Christmas break and was delighted by the sprawling wilderness intermixed with many structured displays of plant species.
It’s hardly a ‘trek’ to get there; quite easy in fact. We took the subway to the gardens, jumping on the 4 train from 86th Street and rode it to Bedford Park Boulevard. The B and D trains will also get you there. Directions provided on the NYBG website suggest taking the Bx26 bus to the Moshulu Gate from the subway station, but you don’t need to – it’s an easy 10 minute walk down the hill.
We intended to activate the free membership to the gardens that comes with the NYC ID card, but that covers grounds-only access. Entry to the Holiday Train Show was $96 for the 4 of us ($30/adult, $23/child). It’s cheaper if you go on weekdays. An annual family membership to the gardens was an additional $29 ($125 in total) so we decided to purchase that as it includes entry to all special exhibitions for 12 months, plus member discounts in the shop and reciprocal access to over 200 gardens US-wide, including Brooklyn and Queens Botanical Gardens.
The surprising thing about the Holiday Train Show is that the trains themselves are actually the side-show. The G-scale model trains are indeed delightful, but for me the main event was the 150 old New York mansions, art deco buildings, skyscrapers, iconic bridges, significant brownstones, and sporting grounds the trains zip through. It’s an architectural mecca, all expertly recreated from bark, leaves, twigs, branches, buds, and all manner of stuff you’d find underfoot when walking through the woods. If you ever wanted to sound like a pro on the significant architectural constructions in New York and where they’re located, then go to the train show. Not only are they all reproduced in amazing detail, the exact locations of many of the buildings are also given. A fun kids activity would be to pick a favourite building from the train show and go hunt down the real thing in the city, comparing the actual building design elements to its twig-and-leaf counterpart.
I’ve been a huge fan of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens since moving to NY, especially their cherry blossom display in early spring (tip for that – always check peak blooming dates provided on the BBG website before you go), but the NYBG takes botanical to a new level. Firstly, it’s enormous. The 250-acre grounds contain the largest remaining expanse of New York’s original wooded landscape (you could spend a day just seeing that bit), plus there’s an enchanting Children’s Adventure garden, Wetlands teeming with birdlife, a stunning conservatory that takes you from rain forest to desert and back again, a glorious maple collection, the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden (considered one of the world’s best), and the Donald J. Bruckmann Crabapple Collection that dates back to the 1930’s, to highlight just a few of the many displays.
In warmer months you can bring your own food into the gardens and picnic at designated spots (I was surprised at this – you can’t picnic in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens) and I fully intend to do just that with every Aussie visitor from now on. In colder months the garden’s Pine Tree Cafe offers lots of healthy salads alongside very good made-to-order pizzas and sandwiches, strong coffee and baked treats. There’s even a Schnapps bar!
We read a lot about NYC neighbourhood gems and secret local spots – well in a sea of gems the NYBG is a diamond. Get your membership for the grounds if you have an NYC ID card because I’m sure you’ll want to see the gardens in every season. The Holiday Train Show runs until January 18th.
Photo credits: Joanna Hishon