Story and photos by Robin Lawless
A tartan clad bagpipe player led a procession of local residents ready for a dose of spring weather this past Sat., Apr. 14th through purple-hued beds of flowers for the Shearing of the Heather at Fort Tryon Park. The picturesque three-acre spot, tucked just inside the entrance and appropriately called The Heather Garden, is perched high above the Hudson River and boasts the largest collection of heaths and heather plants on the East Coast. The annual event is held to "highlight this unique asset of our community" said Jennifer Hoppa, Executive Director of Fort Tryon Park Trust.
"It's just a beautiful place" said Mary Matwey, President of the Northeast Heather Society, who brought a dozen volunteers from Upstate New York and New Jersey to help the parks gardeners trim the colorful shrubs, which stimulates new growth and ensures spring and summer blooms. The mild winter left the garden in "fantastic shape," Matwey said, and a yearly shearing is all that is needed for the hardy perennials to flourish.
"This is all it takes, a spring trimming and you don't have to fuss with them for the rest of the year," she said.
Shearing the entire garden takes approximately 2 ½ hours, Matwey said.
The sturdy nature of the plant along with its beauty and ability to bloom year round was a factor in its being chosen as a centerpiece of the garden by the park's designer, Frederick Olmstead JR., Hoppa said. The heaths and heather compliment the landscape by hugging the rock outcroppings and they don't grow high enough to obscure the majestic view of the Hudson River and New Jersey Palisades, Hoppa added.
Despite its toughness, desiccating winter winds coming of the river and freezing temperatures are enemies of the flowering bush, which is a member of the evergreen family. "They like snow cover," said Neal Mackey, a gardener at the park, who estimates he tends to twenty varieties of heather in the garden. "It can be difficult to grow them here," he said.
The inclusion of bagpipe player John Truman from the Scottish Pipe and Drum band was a nod to the shrubs association with Scotland, where it grows abundantly on the rugged moors and thrives in places where other plants wither. In Celtic lore heaths and heathers, whose colors range from white to all shades of pinks, purples and reds, symbolize beauty, admiration, solitude, protection and purity.
Saturday, April 14th was also Tartan Day in New York City, a celebration of Scottish heritage.
After the procession, event goers lingered, chatting and taking photos, while children played about, making for a perfect spring day in the lush garden.
Fort Tryon Park, which is home to 400 different types of plants, trees and shrubs, was recently rated as the best in the city for a nature walk by The Daily News.
Neighborhood newcomers, Leana and Kieryn Phipps, brought son Miran, 3, who was fascinated by the bagpipe player. "He loves music, he loves flowers, and it's a beautiful day," Phipps said. The couple said the park was a big draw in their moving into the area. "Any event that happens here we love to come out," she said.
For more information about The Heather Garden and events in Fort Tryon Park visit their website at www.fortryonparktrust.org.