The sights. The smells. The sounds. The colors. The texture. The tone. The yellows. The reds. The blues. The greens. And the train.
As we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the rollout of vaccinations and relaxation of restrictions, acclimating ourselves to a world without quarantine will remain a priority as it binds us all together for the foreseeable future. A solid first step toward normalcy could be as easy as boarding an Amtrak train for a getaway to a not-so-distant New York State community, and a day trip to a public garden.
Think about it.
Public gardens offer plenty for the senses, an opportunity to hit your daily goal for counting steps and the chance to immerse yourself in the outdoors without having to schlep up a mountain, pitch a tent or paddle a canoe.
“Because the urban environment is inherently stressful, urban residents need outlets for stress reduction and restoration,” reads a 1995 master’s thesis submitted by University of Delaware student Ellen Sullivan Bennett. “Exposure to nature in a variety of settings has been shown by researchers to reduce stress in humans.”
A survey conducted as part of the thesis revealed, “a reduction in stress in urban residents after a garden visit. Furthermore, urban residents identify relaxation, stress reduction, and inspiration as the three most important reasons for visiting the gardens. All three reasons are related to feelings or affects, suggesting that urban residents find the affective rewards of visiting public gardens to be more important than other, more tangible rewards.”
So with that established, the moment has arrived to plot out a genuine adventure that begins at your nearest Amtrak station. Your train ride will bring you to a destination within a reasonable distance, for a day trip or overnight stay. And the centerpiece of your excursion will be one of the many compelling public gardens that call New York State home.
Wave Hill in the Bronx
Open year-round, the Wave Hill public garden and cultural center touts its 28 acres of gardens and woodland as being “acclaimed for plantsmanship, aesthetic sensibility and the human experience of nature.” Wave Hill is a 15-minute Uber ride from the Amtrak station in Yonkers. If you’re in Manhattan, Wave Hill is only a 30-minute ride from Moynihan Train Hall.
The former private estate overlooks the Hudson River and Palisades and is one of New York City’s 33 city-owned cultural institutions.
“Our mission is to connect people to the natural world in meaningful and lasting ways through myriad programs in the arts, horticulture and education,” reads www.wavehill.org.
Take Amtrak to Wave Hill
Wave Hill is 2.9 miles from Yonkers Station (YNY)
Old Westbury Gardens on Long Island
A 45-minute ride from Moynihan Train Hall in Manhattan, Old Westbury Gardens is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features a 1906 mansion. The site’s 200 acres boast formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, ponds and lakes. The grounds also feature a thatched cottage, reflecting pool and colonnade.
Built by John (Jay) S. Phipps, eldest son of Pittsburgh steel industrialist Henry Phipps, Jr., Westbury House is furnished with fine English antiques and decorative arts from the more than fifty years of the family’s residence. The residential section has 22 rooms. In 1911, Phipps commissioned a 24-room service wing with servants’ bedrooms, kitchens, pantries and storage rooms. Terraces link the interiors to the gardens.
Take Amtrak to Old Westbury Gardens
Old Westbury Gardens is 22.3 miles from Penn Station (NYP)
Innisfree Gardens in Millbrook, Dutchess County
More than 50 years in the making, Innisfree is framed by streams, waterfalls and terraces.
The work of landscape architect Lester Collins, this destination is accessible by a 30-minute drive, through rural Dutchess County, from the Amtrak station in Poughkeepsie.
“At its core, Innisfree is about the individual’s experience in nature,” reads innisfreegarden.org. “Inviting exploration and even contemplation, Collins’ sweeping landscape merges the essence of Modernist and Romantic ideas with traditional Chinese and Japanese garden design principles in a form that evolved through subtle handling of the site and slow manipulation of its ecology.
“The result is a distinctly American stroll garden — a sublime composition of rock, water, wood, and sky achieved with remarkable economy and grace.”
Take Amtrak to Innisfree Gardens
Innisfree Gardens is 14.2 miles from Poughkeepsie Station (POU)
Central Park Rose Garden in Schenectady
A less than 10-minute Uber ride from the Amtrak station in Schenectady, this Capital Region destination features more than 4,000 rose bushes, a calming brook and elegant fountain.
Created by Charles Brown in 1959, the Central Park Rose Garden sits on land originally occupied by a stone tennis court. The first recipient of the American Rose Society’s award for Outstanding Public Garden boasts 300 different varieties of roses, a fountain, brook and small pond.
This public garden also embodies a spirit of renewal. Once maintained by the City of Schenectady’s Parks Department, the garden fell into disrepair and seemed destined for abandonment. The Rose Garden Restoration Committee emerged and continues to maintain the site.
Take Amtrak to Central Park Rose Garden
Central Park Rose Garden is 2.1 miles from Schenectady Station (SDY)
Landis Arboretum in Esperance, Schoharie and Montgomery counties
An arboretum and public garden encompassing hundreds of acres, Landis is a roughly 30-minute drive from the Amtrak station in Amsterdam. Trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials from around the world can be found on 40 of those acres, with woodlands, wetlands and more than 14 miles of trails and open fields occupying the remaining land.
Take Amtrak to Landis Arboretum
Landis Arboretum in Esperance is 18.6 miles from Amsterdam Station (AMS)
Highland Park in Rochester
A roughly 10-minute drive from the Amtrak station in Rochester, Highland Park encompasses 150 acres and features the nation’s largest lilac collection and a garden honoring William Shakespeare.
The Lamberton Conservatory is home to plants found in tropical rain forests and deserts, with a seasonal display area rotating throughout the year. There is also a lily pond and stream with goldfish. Highland Park also features the Warner Castle Estate Gardens, Alling DeForest Sunken Garden and Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester.
Take Amtrak to Highland Park
Highland Park is 2.5 miles from Rochester Station (ROC)
Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
A less than 15-minute drive from the Amtrak station in Buffalo, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is a national historic site and boasts exotic horticulture treasures from around the world. This destination features indoor and outdoor garden sanctuaries, greenhouses and, according to its website, “is a gathering place where visitors can find peace and harmony and enjoy the simple power of the natural world.”
Opened in 1900, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens emerged from the visions of notable personalities, including Frederick Law Olmsted, Frederick A. Lord and William A. Burnham. Olmsted, partnering with Calvert Vaux, won the design competition for Central Park in New York City. Lord and Burnham were designers of Victorian glass houses and drew inspiration from the Crystal Palace in England.
Take Amtrak to Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is 5.2 miles from Buffalo Exchange Street Station (BFX)