One of the surest signs that spring in New York City has finally arrived is when the buds on the trees begin to appear. But before those buds burst into leaves, it is the glorious Magnolia tree that makes its debut, with her giant petal-like flowers beating out the other trees, flowering and otherwise, not only in timing, but often in size and beauty as well.
A few years ago I became extremely interested, and maybe even a little obsessed, with photographing and documenting the biggest Magnolias in our section of Queens. I even wanted to run a contest of sorts, having homeowners submit photos of their “Magnificent Magnolias.” But it seems I couldn’t just stop at the Magnolias. So I continued to take hundreds of photos of the many beautiful flowering trees in our area, and I was lucky to have the Juniper Berry publish this piece as an outlet for this interest of mine.
The photos I’ve taken are mostly of Magnolias, Cherry Blossoms, and Dogwoods, and the ones here are all from Glendale, Middle Village, and Maspeth. should mention that I am no expert at identifying trees, and when I started photographing them I actually wasn’t even sure which flowering trees were which, except for the unmistakable Cherry Blossom, one of which is gracing the cover of this issue of the Juniper Berry, so I named the tree in that photo The Juniper Cherry, because if my observations and memory are correct, that is the only Blossoming Cherry in that section of Juniper Valley Park. Its place of honor stands at the entrance at Dry Harbor Road and Juniper Boulevard North, welcoming visitors and standing as the foreground for our parks flagpole, where the American flag is accompanied by the Vietnam Veterans of America’s POW/MIA flag, the flag of NYC, and the flag of the NYC Department of Parks.
Taking photos of flowering trees in NYC is no east task because there are so many obstacles and variables that come into play. The first is that I am a working mother, so time is my first obstacle. In addition, the flowers on the trees don’t have a lot of time either. Once the tree is in full bloom, rain and wind are its biggest threats. But the spring of 2014 has actually proven to be the first true spring I can remember, with some very cool evenings and mornings. I think for many of us, the last 10 years or so felt like winter went right into summer, with very few of those beautiful spring-like days. During these last 3 or 4 springs that I’ve been photographing the flowering trees, there were times when I’ve had to race against impending weather to get the shots of the flowering trees before the flowers fell off from heavy rains.
The next obstacles, are actual obstacles, that being cars and wires. Cars, and telephone or electric wires ruin or interfere with many shots of the trees. And there are some trees where the cars parked around them NEVER seem to move! So those “no parking due to street work” days have actually helped me get perfect shots of trees that I would never have gotten otherwise.
Another variable is lighting, I am not always able to get the shot at the perfect time of day, according to where the sun is in the sky for each particular tree, so there are times that the colors of the trees just don’t look as brilliant as they could if the sun is in the wrong spot. Cloudy days can sometimes make for great shots of a tree, but not always. It’s getting the shot when the sun is shining on the tree at just the right time that is my biggest challenge, so for now, it’s all about luck and timing. Many of my favorite shots are at sunrise and sunset. Then I can experiment with having the sun shine through the tree at different angles. In addition, since trees are multi-dimensional, the same tree can look either half it’s size, or even like an entirely different tree, depending on the vantage point at which the shot is taken.
Since I mostly find the trees I want to photograph while I am driving, if I can’t stop to take the shot at that very moment and I don’t write down where it is, I might forget that I needed a photo of it before its past its peak. And since my driving routes change sometimes, I might miss the entire bloom of a particular tree that I needed a better shot of from a previous spring, as was the case with the Magnificent Middle Village Magnolia on 78th street.
Finally I want to add that I have now learned a bit more about identifying some of these flowering trees, and I have noticed that right after the magnolias have lost most of their petals, the cherry blossoms and dogwoods come into bloom, but cherry blossoms, or sakuras in Japanese, come in several varieties, and it can get very confusing. But after doing a bit of online research, the deep pink cherry trees with the pom-pom like flowers that have become very popular in Middle Village are the Kwanzan cherry trees, and the pale pink variety are the Yoshino cherry trees.
But there is one cherry tree in Glendale that is unlike any other, and after speaking with the owner, who planted it 30 years ago, he assured me that it was in fact a blossoming cherry tree, but interestingly, it blooms before all the other flowering trees, except the magnolias of course, and is only in bloom for less than two weeks. Well I did some research and based on that I think it is a Kawazu cherry tree.
It should be noted, that although the Kwanzan cherry trees that have been strategically planted in a several areas around Middle Village are the perfect little ornamentals, and brighten up the neighborhood quite nicely, I am much more interested in photographing ornamentals that are so big that they have stood the test of time, as well as those that are in not such obvious places, the hidden treasures that happened there by chance. But I have included a variety of them here, and I there were so many more that I wanted to include, and I apologize to all whose tree didn’t make it in this publication, but I will be starting a photography website, called The Queen’s Vantage in order to show the all.
At the time that I wrote this, the blooming season for magnolias was already over, and as I drove home from work in the pouring rain, Friday, May 16th, I passed one of those brilliant pink Kwanzan cherry blossom trees on the corner of 80th Street and 62nd Ave. Sadly, I knew all her delicate petals would be gone by morning, as its bloom was nearing its end, and the rain was supposed to come down very heavy that night. As sure as summer follows spring, the only thing that would be left of the beautiful cherry blossoms and magnolias would be their green leaves, and they would once again fade into obscurity for the rest of the year, perhaps not noticed by anyone but me, and those on whose property they stand. Although this sound like the end, the next morning was so sunny and bright that I just had to take a ride and see how the blossoming trees made out. And while my prediction about the cherry blossoms was correct, it was the incredibly loyal dogwood blossoms that were still there in their glory, waiting for me take their picture.