Then & Now: Victorian Influence in Mad. Sq. Park
At Madison Square Park, we focus on the conservation and celebration of all flora and fauna that make up our unique urban gardens. As part of the Conservancy’s efforts, which you can read more about in our Tree Conservation Plan, we strive to make horticultural decisions that align with our vision for a canopy of the future while still preserving the integrity of the past. Some of these decisions include maintaining the plant remnants of our Victorian predecessors, while others require diversifying our collection to meet our current ecological and aesthetic goals in order to increase our trees’ future resiliency.
Our team gives a lot of consideration to the state and sustainability of our overstory, often choosing to replace declining trees with new, more resilient cultivars or species of the same type. With this method, we have been able to preserve a number of Victorian trees including horse chestnut, catalpa, and black locust. Some of the trees we have introduced, or plan to introduce, for canopy diversity include native species of sweetgum, blackgum, and redbud. These trees help build sustainable ecosystems and also provide much needed fall color.
We also pay homage to our rich Park history through our annual and perennial displays. Some of the popular Victorian plants we have chosen to retain include our Perennial Collection of hydrangeas, as well as our annual displays of coleus and abutilons. Hydrangeas were once a Victorian favorite, though for different reasons than you might expect. At the time, these plants used to symbolize frigidity and heartlessness, or on other occasions, vanity and haughtiness, and were thus sent frequently to those Victorians wished to accuse of these traits.
Nowadays we view and gift these plants more fondly, as each of them add a brilliant quality and texture to our park understory. For example, the abutilons—affectionately known as flowering maples or Chinese lantern plants—are favored by modern gardeners and Victorians alike for their brightly colored, bell-shaped flowers. They are also popular among hummingbirds and butterflies for this reason, which is why planting them will align with our goal to support local pollinators. Additionally, our summer display features a tropical variety of botanicals from all over the world, thus permitting patrons to travel through time and space as they embark on their park promenades. To learn more, join us for our Hort Tours, which take place every second Tuesday of the month this season and make sure to visit us during Pollinator Week, June 18th-24th!