Sunday, August 8, 2010

Two Gardens That Will Transport You: Conservatory Garden and Wave Hill

“A garden is a lovesome thing!” -Thomas Edward Brown (19th century poet)

I’ve never had a garden of my own. I’ve dabbled in some window boxes and flower pots, sure, but never have I tended to an honest-to-goodness garden plot.

This may explain why I have been a bit obsessed lately with unearthing urban gardens. Two particularly lovesome ones are the Conservatory Garden in Central Park and Wave Hill in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

The six-acre Conservatory Garden is Central Park’s only formal garden and is divided into three sections: 1) the north, or French, garden; 2) the central, or Italian, garden, and; 3) the south, or English garden.

To enter the Conservatory Garden, pass through Vanderbilt Gate, which originally made up the entrance to the Vanderbilt Mansion at Fifth Avenue and 58th Avenue (currently the site of Bergdorf Goodman) and were installed in the garden in 1939.

Charlie, Vivi, and I spent most of our time in the English garden, meandering along sun-dappled pathways through bright fuchsia crepe myrtle trees and clusters of black-eyed Susans. We stopped and paid our respects to a fountain honoring English author Frances Hodgson Burnett, best known for her children’s books, The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, which I can’t wait to read to Charlie and Vivi in a couple of years.

Shady walkways in the English garden

Summer blooms in the English Garden

The Frances Hodgson Burnett Fountain and reflecting pool

There are well-maintained and clean public restrooms within the garden, and if you begin to tire of being surrounded by so much beauty (we didn’t), you can visit El Museo del Barrio or the Museum of the City of New York, both of which are located across the street along Fifth Avenue, or head to one of the many playgrounds on Central Park’s East Side (we did—to Robert Bendheim Playground located five blocks south at 100th Street).

Wave Hill was originally built as a country home in 1843 and was rented out by, among others, both the family of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain before being bought by George W. Perkins, a partner of J.P. Morgan, in 1903. Over the years, Perkins devoted considerable time, energy, and money to beautifying the grounds and enhancing its breathtaking vistas. In 1960, his family gave Wave Hill to the City of New York and it opened as a public garden in 1965.

Today, its attractions include a flower garden bursting with dahlias, sages, and sunflowers; a wild garden filled with amaranthus and lilies; herb and dry gardens, an aquatic garden with floating water lilies and lotuses, a conservatory; a pergola framing breathtaking views of the Hudson River and the Palisades on the opposite shore; woodland trails; and great expanses of lawn.

Vivi and her grandmother, GB, sitting under the pergola overlooking the Hudson River

Sketching flowers in the Elliptical Garden

Hunting for frogs in the Aquatic Garden

On summer weekends, Wave Hill offers a myriad of programs for the whole family, including Family Art Projects every Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. On the Saturday of our visit it was one of Target’s Free Days, so our entrance fee was waived. On Wednesday evenings during July and August, leave the kids with a babysitter and enjoy a date night when the grounds stay open until 8:30 PM—you can enjoy a yoga class, take a guided garden walk or simply kick back with a beer and barbecue at the café.

Conservatory Garden, Fifth Avenue & 105th Street, Central Park, New York (Upper East Side), New York, or; Hours: Daily, 8:00 AM to dusk; FREE.

Wave Hill, West 249th Street and Independence Avenue, Bronx, New York 10471, (718) 549-3200,; Hours: Closed Mondays, Tuesday to Sunday, April 15th-October 14th: 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM; Admission: Adults: $8; Children six and over: $2; Parking: $8; Target Free Days include Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM, year-round.

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