I recently went to Bushnell Park for the first time in my life and was glad I tagged along. My favorite plants since childhood are trees, especially the kinds you can climb up into and take a seat on a limb broad enough to provide a comfortable seat so you can view the world around you from a different prospective. It was while quietly sitting im trees that I first encountered many birds at close range, such as cedar waxwings, that don’t seem to mind being close to you if you are still and seem to be a part of the tree.
Bushnell Park, the oldest publicly funded park in the United States, was named for the Reverend Horace Bushnell, who conceived the idea of an open space in Hartford that would be available for people to enjoy free of charge. His good friend was the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who was involved in the designs for both Central Park in New York City and Forest Park in Massachusetts at the time but recommended Horace consult his Swiss- born counterpart, Jacob Weidenmann, who was also a botanist. Weidenmann became the first superintendent of parks in Hartford, and not only designed Bushnell Park, but also Cedar Hill Cemetery on Fairfield Avenue. Both of these parks are dotted with many notable trees, including those considered state champions.
Bushnell Park has many rare and native trees and originally contained more than 150 varieties of trees. Some have been lost, but many are specimen trees worthy of a walk and a look. You can stop by the League of Women Voters desk at the Legislative Office Building entrance on Capital Avenue and get a free “ Tree Walk “ brochure before heading out. This brochure is highly recommended as, although some trees have labels, many do not. You could also bring a good illustrated tree field guide that includes trees that are from a more southern climate.
The view looking upward along the trunk and into the canopy of mature trees is often just as exhilarating as viewing a tree from a little distance away and getting the the whole thing at once. The bark of old trees is often very different from that of younger trees. Patterns in the ridges and fissures add to the overall appeal of tress, at least for me. One tree in particular, the Sweetgum, has particularly interseting bark ridge patterns. The effect of this patterning in large limbs and trunks, the star- shaped leaves and the pyramidal form of growth makes this a favorite native specimen tree for Connecticut landscapes. An added bonus is the deep burgundy/ yellow/ or orange leaf color in the fall.
The Turkey Oak , Quercus cerris, is native to Europe and is a fast- growing tree that may reach a height of 130 feet when mature. Trunks can grow to a diameter of three to four feet. The park’s state champion specimen has a trunk with a circumference of 17 feet. This tree can tolerate strong winds, but not in a maritime exposure There are four Turkey Oaks in the park, which supply resident squirrels with large numbers wooly capped acorns which mature in October. Leaves are long and narrow, and are a deep green. The bark of mature trees is attractive, ridged and furrowed with an orange color within the fissures.
There are many more trees of interest in Bushnell Park, including an incredible Cucumbertree Magnolia and a double- trunked gingko. all within a comfortable walking distance of each other. It can be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon at any season of the year. So go and sit in the shade of one of these on a hot summer day and return in the fall to enjoy the foliage. And if you need a little extra reason to smile, for one dollar, you can go for a ride on the historic Stein and Goldstein carousel. It is hard to be in a bad mood in Bushnell Park, with its magnificent trees, historic monuments, carousel, and surrounding skyscrapers to boot.