My first visit this past week to Wave Hill, the absolutely gorgeous Bronx public gardens, was truly breathtaking.
Although the foremost reason for our visit was to spend the evening in the Aquatic Garden within this 28-acre venue for their weeklyTwilight in the Garden, my teenage daughter, Gianna and I were mesmerized by the beauty of our surroundings upon entering and enjoyed our brief time exploring.
We could not help but take our time strolling and stopping for photos along the way to the Aquatic Garden where the evening’s events were taking place.
The onsite parking facility has been closed due to construction, so all visitors were directed to temporary off-site parking down the road. Fortunately, there were complimentary shuttle buses provided for guests as to avoid the hilly six minute walk back and forth, with friendly drivers to get one’s visit off on a positive note.
As I mentioned, this was my first visit to this garden oasis located in the Riverdale section of The Bronx. Although the estate had been either owned or leased to a number of notable people since the original Wave Hill House, a gray fieldstone mansion, was built in 1843 by lawyer William Lewis Morris, it was eventually purchased, along with the adjacent property, in 1903, as a private estate by George Walbridge Perkins, a partner of J. P. Morgan.
The estate stayed in the Perkins-Freeman family until 1960, when it was deeded to the City of New York, with the development of its lush and flourishing gardens in the mid-1960’s.
As of 1983, the estate was added to the roster of the National Register of Historic Places and it’s no wonder why.
This place is absolutely gorgeous and quite a natural refuge and sanctuary in the middle of an otherwise urban setting
Although I had anticipated being blown away by the beauty and tranquility of this place from photos that I had seen and research I had done, it was everything and more than I had expected. Moreover, I was ever grateful and pleasantly surprised at Gianna’s reaction to its beauty!
She was so eager to take photos and pose with the backdrop of flowers and the view of the Hudson River in the background, that we both realized immediately, we had planned our visit to arrive a bit too late in the day.
Between the hand map and signage throughout, in conjunction with a very navigable layout, we made our way around with ease and found ourselves stopping to admire the magnificently laid out exquisite plantings as we traversed the grounds.
Our destination was the Aquatic Garden for the evening’s Twilight in the Garden event featuring Gamelan Dharma Swara.
Dharma Swara is a 25-person ensemble founded in 1989 and is one of the leading Balinese gamelan and dance ensembles in the United States.
After a rather leisurely stroll through the grounds and stopping to take numerous photos, we arrived about five minutes into the performance.
As we approached the lovely Aquatic Garden, we joined other visitors who were comfortably seated around the outdoor garden “stage”, forming a circle of onlookers both on the cool summer grass and comfortably seated on adjacent benches.
Gianna and I walked around, garnering numerous views, as we felt like we had been transformed to Bali with the soft, mesmerizing music that filled the air. The soft, ethereal music filled the evening air.
With the sounds of the enchanting music, we watched most of the show, but left the area a few minutes prior to its completion to continue investigating the Wave Hill grounds before the sun set. There is really just too much to take in to fully enjoy this spectacular place that one must visit often and spent several hours roaming about each time.
Me and my girl did manage to visit the Cafe and snag a few iced teas, which we sipped relaxingly on the outdoor patio before departing for the evening.
In a few words, this visit was both enchanting and invigorating. We will be returning for sure in the Fall, at which time I am looking forward to seeing the seasonal transformation throughout the gardens.
And while I was worried about whether my 15-year old would find the outing enjoyable, I was pleasantly surprised at her excited reaction from beginning to end about how beautiful it was!! The musical performance was not necessarily her thing, but she did take it in and was open to the experience and eager to return.
I highly recommend making time for Wave Hill’s Twilight in the Garden series next summer. I will leave you with a few suggestions for upcoming events this coming Labor Day weekend and beyond. Mark your calendar!
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1 at 2:00PM
Garden Highlights Walk
This public tour of the seasonal garden highlights will be led by one of Wave Hill’s knowledgeable Garden Guides.
Free with admission to the grounds.
Meet at Perkins Visitor Center
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 2 at 2:00PM
Labor Day Garden Highlights Walk
Open on Labor Day for visitors to join a Wave Hill Garden Guide for a public tour of seasonal garden highlights.
Free with admission to the grounds.
Meet at Perkins Visitor Center
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3 at 2pm
Tour Glyndor Gallery with Wave Hill’s Curatorial Assistant or Gallery Greeter for a view of the current exhibition Figuring the Floral features artists who apply this symbolism to their work—touching on race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, aging and other facets of identity.
Free with admission to the grounds.
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 8 at 9:30AM
Naturalist Gabriel Willow contributes his extensive knowledge of diverse bird species and their behavior on these walks through the gardens and woodlands. Observe the plants, insects and habitats at Wave Hill that make it so appealing for such a wide variety of birds. Birders of all levels welcome! Ages 10 and older welcome with an adult.
Free with admission to the grounds. NYC Audubon Members enjoy two-for-one admission. (Meet at Perkins Visitor Center)
Nothing warms my heart more than the news of yet another Bronx site getting its proper and well deserved recognition for what it offers not only to the Borough or the City of New York, but to the world.
Last week, there was fun and festivities to celebrate the publication of Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, a new book from Timber Press. Written in an eloquent manner by Thomas Christopher, with exquisite photographs by Ngoc Minh Ngo, this book is a testament to the beauty of one of the best public gardens in our great state and country.
Initiated by Timber Press, who has brought other public gardens around the United States to the forefront with previously published books, Nature into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill was made possible through a collaborative effort of an enthusiastic publisher, an eager Wave Hill and two talented creative artists.
As the author of several books with Timber Press, and a horticulturist himself, Thomas Christopher was asked to pen a glorious narrative and detailed description of the history and unique features of Wave Hill and its expansive Gardens.
Having spent a great deal of time in The Bronx training as a horticulturist at The New York Botanical Gardens in the 1970’s, Mr. Christopher has always loved the beauty of Wave Hill, visiting frequently throughout the years, and was happy about being a part of this project.
He weaves an engaging story, taking the reader through history, and of course, bestowing a plethora of information about the Gardens and their seasonal transformations. From the 18th Century, when it was home to a number of successive American notables, even hosting the Queen of England, to the early 1900’s when it became the expansive 28 acre estate of financier, George W. Perkins, whose family would reside there through 1960, when it was donated to the city of New York, the book is an interesting and enjoyable read.
Complementing the delightful text are an assemblage of photographs capturing the myriad of plantings of the Wave Hill Gardens and their diversity in each of the four seasons with spectacular perspectives taken by Ngoc Minh Ngo.
One could say that the birth of the Wave Hill Gardens that exists today, came about during the 1960’s under the direction and loving care of its then-horticulturist, Marco Polo Stufano and his small staff of three gardeners. These individuals created an oasis of plantings, the likes of which this country had never seen.
According to Mr. Christopher’s text, “The country had never seen a public garden like this: intimate, personal, rich, and dynamic. And Wave Hill remains unique. The gardeners there practice a kind of classic horticultural craftsmanship unrivaled among other public gardens in the United States. The skill and commitment to detail of the Wave Hill staff is legendary.”
Marco Stufano was determined to create a garden on par with the great American and English gardens and he succeeded in his mission. Wave Hill is one of the last surviving country estates in all of New York City’s five boroughs, containing acres of glorious retreat.
Amidst the harried metropolis of The Bronx that surrounds Wave Hill, one can find peace and solace in these diverse gardens which are situated in one of the most scenic of locations in the city, overlooking the Hudson and the Palisades, offering locals and tourists alike, an opportunity to experience a totally different glimpse into The Bronx and city beyond.
The first to arrive on the scene for this creative project was Ngoc Minh Ngo, who began photographing the plantings and their surroundings eighteen months prior to the book’s author beginning his writings. Generally speaking, Ms. Ngo advised that it is the writing that precedes the photography on her projects, but in this instance, it was imperative for her to begin sooner than later since she was charged with capturing the gardens during each of the four seasons.
Having had two books published on flowers, her challenge with Nature into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill was to capture the unique nuances of the landscape and floriculture of Wave Hill, which can literally change overnight. With a lead time of 18 months, Ms. Ngo was afforded two Springs and two Summers with which to photograph. And that’s exactly what she did. In her own words, “I photographed what I saw.”
Ms. Ngo was no stranger to Wave Hill either, having previously visited for her love of flowers and when contacted by the Wave Hill team to join this project, she remembered well the location and gardens and happily accepted. According to the photographer, “One of the nicest things was to be able to explore in-depth over time, as that’s what gardens are about – not the single moment. It’s about the seasons and they change constantly and it was wonderful to go back to the same place and see the changes.”
Mr Christopher credits the beauty and ongoing success of the Wave Hill Gardens with the continuity of its gardening staff. Beginning with the hands-on training by Stufano, so too did he create a sense of family among the gardeners that still exists today and is one of the factors that has led to their long employ. As a result of this continuity and the development of a true craft for horticulture, the consistency has proven tremendously beneficial, according to the book’s author.
One may ask what makes Wave Hill different from say, The New York Botanical Gardens? Christopher himself, who began his horticultural training there, sings its praises, but points to a few key differences that make Wave Hill unique.
Wave Hill invokes a more “flexible” philosophy and its location lends itself to doing things a bit differently. For example, they are very clever in exploiting the micro climates at Wave Hill. That is, the features in the landscape that create their own climate. Up on the hill over the Hudson, it is breezy and dry, which allows for growing things that wouldn’t necessarily grow elsewhere at Wave Hill.
Another example of Wave Hill’s uniqueness is their allowance of volunteer seedlings, which is essentially letting the garden replant itself, not imposing as much control as many gardeners employ. Not imposing such control allows for a non-planned out garden, which adds new variety all the time and creates a avery lush feel – a very flexible approach.
“It was a wonderful assignment,” says Mr. Christopher, “having visited Wave Hill through the years and admired it, here was a chance to visit more regularly to see how it changed through the seasons and be able to follow the gardeners around, so it was a real education for me. I learned so much and they were so patient and answered all my questions “
Ms Ngo added that while she has photographed many gardens and has enjoyed meeting many gardeners from all over, she found Wave Hill’s gardeners to be some of the most talented of all with their work exhibiting “beautiful combinations and beautiful plants” making the book project a great pleasure with which to be a part.
In speaking about the collaboration between himself and Ngoc, Mr. Christopher said, “it was fun working with Ngoc. Sometimes there can be an unwritten competition between writers and photographers, however, this was far from the case. Ngoc brought out beauties and features of the gardens of Wave Hill that I had never seen from her tremendous insight and talent.”
Till next time,
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Elisa is a travel blogger and freelance writer. She is co-founder of TravelinCousins.com travel blog and writes a weekly column for ThisIsTheBronx.info.