BEDFORD PARK — A walk down the steep slope of Bedford Park Avenue, past bakeries, gas stations, apartment buildings, pizza shops, bodegas and bars and across a bridge over the Metro-North railroad takes you from the Bronx and into a natural paradise.
Suddenly, you're away from the city and under a canopy of trees inside the New York Botanical Garden, a 120-year-old “museum of plants” that seems as distant from its Bronx surroundings as Oz was from Kansas.
“When we walk in, I like to think of it as that Wizard of Oz moment, when you go from black-and-white to Technicolor,” said Nicholas Leshi, the Garden’s director of public relations, stepping into a greenhouse bursting with irises and poppies.
If you’re looking for a serene summer outing, the Botanical Garden supplies it, with more than 1 million plants spread over 250 shaded, sculpted acres.
Come for the living recreation of Claude Monet’s famous Giverny garden, which has already attracted a quarter-million visitors since it opened in May, but stay for the perennial attractions — the children’s garden, the rose garden and the historic forest.
“I am following Nature without being able to grasp her,” Claude Monet, the Impressionist master, once wrote. “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”
For more than four decades, Monet tended his famous flower and water gardens with a meticulousness matched only by the work he put into his paintings. He was said to have ordered one of his hired gardeners to give each lily pad a daily dip in the pond so that they would shimmer in the sun.
The Botanical Garden’s take on Giverny is mostly housed in its glass-walled Victorian conservatory, where Broadway set designer Scott Pask has recreated the façade of Monet’s house, his garden's Japanese footbridge and its green-arched Grande Allée.
Behind the conservatory sits a gymnasium-sized pool brimming with the same varieties of water lily that inspired some of Monet’s most beloved paintings, including specimens from the same Paris nursery where the artist bought his lilies.
Elsewhere in the garden, visitors can find photographs of the artist caring for his flowers, pages from the detailed plant inventories he kept, a paint-spattered palette he used and two rarely seen paintings he made of irises.
On certain weekend days, guest can take in Monet-inspired poetry readings, picnic concerts and film screenings.
“Monet’s Garden” is the show of the hour, but it’s certainly not the only reason that about 800,000 visitors stroll through the Botanical Garden each year.
Families with young children should stop by the Everett Children's Adventure Garden this summer, where kids can make music on an outdoor marimba, paint in a garden studio or explore the engineering behind aquatic plants.
Meanwhile, the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden hosts daily hands-on activities for young people, including a program for kids ages 3-12 that provides budding gardeners with their own plot and lessons on growing vegetables.
Throughout July, the smell of alliums and spicy herbs will fill the Family Garden during its “Sweet and Stinky” cooking demonstrations, while in August it’s a “Pickle Me!” pickling party.
The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, many of whose 680 rose varieties are now in bloom, is a summertime favorite.
Finally, don’t leave the Botanical Garden without passing through its 50-acre old-growth forest, which the Garden says is the largest remaining pocket of the woodland that once covered much of the city, some of whose trees date back to the days of the American Revolution.
Visitors there can canoe along the Bronx River as it flows through the deep gorge cutting through the forest, take a bird walk, or simply wander through the woods, an ancient retreat from the outside world.
“On a hot day, the forest is a great place to take a stroll,” said the public relation director, Nicholas Leshi. “Seeing something like this in an urban environment is a great escape.”