This is an except from my soon to be released eBook A Gardener’s Tour of the Hudson Valley. The book features an array of outstanding public gardens from the Bronx to the Capital District and is geared toward experienced gardeners looking for inspiration and non-gardeners who simply appreciated spending time in a beautiful setting alike.
I hope you’ll have a chance to visit many of the gardens yourself. I’m a huge fan of visiting gardens and these are some of the most sublime in the world. Remember, American landscape design started here and a series of dedicated gardeners have kept up the tradition. Enjoy!
The information and opinions expressed are solely my own and do not in any way imply an endorsement of or from the respective garden.
675 W 252nd St.
New York, NY 10471
At first glance, it seems like a small garden, yet I didn’t know where to head first. Should I go toward the arbor clustered with large containers and incredible view of the Hudson and NJ Palisades? Maybe head into the path on my right and up toward the conservatories? Or what’s beyond the buildings? First impressions are definitely deceptive here.
For a modest sized garden (21 acres), there is much to see and learn. You may not care about monocots and dicots, but you’ll learn to appreciate the differences anyway. For those looking for design ideas, they are often the first to use common plants, like millet, in ingenious ways. The Palm House is overflowing with exotic tropicals that spill out on the terrace above the Herb and Dry garden filled with plants that survive being planted in openings of an old stone foundation.
The only negative for me is that Wave Hill is hard to get to. There’s no train to deliver you to the door and if you drive, the signs are confusing. It’s set in a residential neighborhood – a very hilly neighborhood with narrow roads. Both Metro-North’s Hudson Line and the #1 train stop nearby and I’d advise taking the free shuttle from the station, rather than walking the rest of the way, if you tend to get lost or if you don’t like walking uphill both ways.
While some plants are labeled, many are not. The gardeners are very friendly and willing to answer questions, but there’s not always one handy when you stumble on a new discovery. Of course, you could always take a tour.
A Little Background
It may be hard to think of the Bronx as countryside, but Wave Hill was built in 1843, by William Lewis Morris, as a country home. It was expanded a little larger under the next owner, William Henry Appleton, but it wasn’t until financier George Perkins bought the property in 1903 that land started to attain its full promise, beyond being sited with an incredible view of the NJ Palisades across the river.
Perkins had already scooped up some neighboring land, including the property where Glyndor House, his home, is situated. Perkins saw the potential of this incredible setting and began the work of creating a landscape that would blend with the natural countryside. Along the way, he added rare trees and shrubs, naturalistic gardens, and greenhouses, and began sculpting and terracing the land, always giving a nod to the spectacular vistas.
The Wave Hill house is also notable for having been rented out during summers to some famous tenants, including a young Teddy Roosevelt and his family, Mark Twain, and Toscanini.
Since 1960, Wave Hill has been owned by the City of NY. It has 2 recent claims to fame. The first is its former director of horticulture, Marco Polo Stufano, who took it from virtual ruins to one of the most innovative gardens in the country. Stufano said he liked to look at garden design as sculpture, but he was renowned for his use of color, particularly in containers, and his introduction of out of the ordinary plants that we now take for granted, like millet and sweet potato vines.
In an interview with the NY Times, Stufano summed up his intent for the gardens, “This is about providing someplace beautiful for the people of the city,” he said. “It’s not about a collection of plants. It’s about making pictures, putting things together in a way that’s pleasing.” Stufano pairs plants like guests at a cocktail party; they may not have been acquainted before, but it doesn’t take long before they feel like old friends.
The 2nd claim to fame would be the Wave Hill chair, the chair that re-popularized the Adirondack-style chair. The elegantly simple design of the Wave Hill chair is based on a chair designed by the Dutch architect, who was part of the De Stijl movement, (the style) which sought to distill form down to its essentials. The Wave Hill chair is a modification of the Rietveld Red Blue chair and it’s been a fixture at the public garden since the 1960s. It’s kind of austere and homey at the same time. And comfortable. I think Rietveld would be happy. He wanted his chair to be inviting, not just relief. “We must remember that sit is a verb too.”
Not to Be Missed
Well, first there’s the view. You really do have to get that out of your system, before you can focus on the plants. The pergola is set so that it draws your eye toward the palisades, so that’s as good a place to start as any.
There are several unique gardens, like the Rossbach Monocot Garden, the Paisley Bed, and the succulents in the conservatory, but hypertufa in front of the Alpine House is a treat for the eyes. If you’ve ever wondered how to incorporate these troughs into your landscape with them seeming like square pegs, take note at Wave Hill.
I’m an Experienced Gardener – What’s There for Me?
How about the way to blend the transition from one garden to the next. You will find yourself walking down a woodland-like path that seamlessly transitions to a rather exotic flower garden.
The plants are meant to intermingle in the Wave Hill borders.They manage to pack in substantial variety without a sense of chaos, even when the traditionally encouraged use of large swaths is ignored.
I Just Want to See Flowers
Wave Hill excels at the use of color. More than excel, they delight in it. You don’t have to know what the plants are called to enjoy them here and they spill over the paths, so you are up close and personal.
I’m Tagging Along for Exercise
Perfect. The terrain is hilly, but not off-putting. Even if you tire of looking at plants, there’s plenty of view to take in. Head over to Kerlin Overlook or the ½ mile trail Abrons Woodland trail below the gardens.
Anything else to See?
The New York Botanical Garden is also in the Bronx at 2900 Southern Blvd. Because they are on an island, they have the advantage of no deer.
If you’d like to see wildlife, you could stroll down to the Bronx Zoo, at 2300 Southern Blvd.
There is also a nice medieval herb garden not far away at The Cloisters, at 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park (the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan).