A Few of the Much-Needed Retreats to Visit Close to Home

By Nancy Sorbella

It might be November, but I’m sticking with the garden theme as long as Mother Nature permits.

Being outdoors, it seems, is the best pandemic salvation I have experienced in the past nine months; it’s guilt-free, and well, free. With so much that is beyond my control, finding that space to modulate stress, manage expectations and find contentment has become a daily pursuit.

Weekdays, with a full-time job, family, demands of balancing the ever-changing remote school model, Zoom calls, classes, virtual social and professional events, the restorative outdoor antidote is limited to walks with the dog in the neighborhood.

Weekends, however, with so many fewer kids’ commitments, there is a lot of time to fill. I’ve been finding new destinations to explore and revisiting old favorites; all of them bring me the peace, joy and gratitude I need to thrive (and to survive this crazy campaign season). Taking a page from the count-your-blessings playbook, our spectacular fall foliage and crisp weather have made these detours even better.

Lasdon Park, Arboretum & Veterans Memorial

No matter how often I visit Lasdon Park, regardless of the season, I always feel as if it is my first time. There is so much to immerse yourself in at this gem of a Westchester County park.

Recently, I spent an afternoon in the Chinese Friendship Garden. It was at the peak of the fall foliage there, and just the walk to the garden could have been enough. The towering trees create almost a “tunnel effect” as they nearly block out the sky with their leaves. The path is dotted with teases of the Chinese pavilion, bamboo plants and pond created through the collaboration of the county’s sister city, Jinzhou, China.

The garden feels as though it is in China, and has many spaces for meditation and reflection, especially inside the pavilion with its traditional architectural style and stunning artistic renderings on the ceiling.

What not to miss: The conservatory. The American Chestnut Grove, discovered on the property and where, in collaboration with the American Chestnut Foundation, they are working on developing a disease-resistant chestnut tree. Activities for kids include the (seasonal) Dinosaur Garden and the annual train show.

Lasdon is also home to the Westchester County Veterans Museum. Admission, except for special events, is free. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the shop and indoor spaces have limited capacity, but the outdoor space is naturally spacious, making this the perfect pandemic escape close to home.

Lasdon Park, Arboretum & Veterans Memorial, 2610 Amawalk Rd. (Route 35), Katonah, N.Y. 10536. Info: Visit www.lasdonpark.org.

Untermyer Park and Gardens

Untermyer Gardens is another Westchester County treasure, specifically part of a partnership with the City of Yonkers, and a gift that keeps on giving as each stage of restoration evolves and is completed.

Having grown up in a river town, just a few miles to the north, my memories of this breathtaking property on the banks of the Hudson River were far from stellar. For years after the death of the property owner and creator of the gardens, lawyer and businessman Samuel Untermyer, fell into disrepair. The foundation of the walled garden, amphitheater, reflecting pool, stage and more were retained along with the remains of the original plantings.

Under the guidance of the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy since 2011, much has been meticulously restored. Visits are free and the restoration of the infrastructure and spectacular horticultural reclamation makes this both a quintessential pandemic retreat and a local historical and sensory immersion that is wide open with legendary river views. Timed reservations are required at this time.

What not to miss: The Persian Pool. Part of the lower terrace of the Walled Garden, once the family swimming pool and now the subject of a restoration effort, is a critical view into the reclamation and revitalization of this local treasure.

Then there is the Grand Holiday Illumination. This is a run-don’t-walk experience. There is nothing like strolling through the artistically lighted garden spaces, listening to classical music and drinking hot chocolate served by generous volunteers on a cold December night. Best of all, it’s free. It’s scheduled from Dec. 12 though Jan. 3.

Untermyer Park and Gardens, 945 Broadway, Yonkers, N.Y. 10701. Info: Visit www.untermyergardens.org.

New York Botanical Garden

New York Botanical Garden remains my favorite oasis in the middle of the Bronx. There is so much to appreciate that regular visits are necessary. Each occasion has been its own experience; enjoying the 250 acres of gardens and collections through the lens of four seasons.

Now, there is more online programming but recently we decided to walk the paths and appreciate the native plantings, winding trails of perennials, the forest, the Rose Garden, waterfalls and views of the legendary Enid Haupt Conservatory. Access to some gardens and amenities is limited due to the pandemic. The silver lining is going and not being “entertained” but finding your own joy in the permanent landscape. Timed reservations are required at this time and there is an admission fee.

What not to miss: During the holiday season, the outdoor decorations can inspire even the most novice gardener. The Holiday Train Show is a never-miss, but this year admission will be limited.

All-year kids’ workshops, which are now virtual now, and the Edible Academy makes it the spot for family education.

The New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, N.Y. 10458. Info: Visit www.nybg.org.