New York may seem like the city of cities: all skyscrapers, taxis and crowds. But Rosemary Verey has seen its other side, and suggests an eye-opening itinerary of garden-related visits.
When you fly into New York, do not immediately rush off to Vermont or Connecticut, so beautiful in the fall. Stay a while in the city, and discover the many delights it has to offer garden lovers.
I’m especially loyal to old friends and Marco Polo Stufano is one. For years he has been the inspired administrator of the garden at Wave Hill, once the private home of the Perkins family and now run as a public garden on the east bank of the Hudson River. Take a bus to 252th St and walk to 249th Street, but you are on holiday, so why not go by taxi? It still has a personal atmosphere, with Marco’s planting skills using typical American plants to full advantage. There are exotics by the pool and unusual vegetables are given a bed. The restaurant is cool and quick. Before leaving, ask about lectures and visual arts programmes.
While you are on the West Side, ask your taxi to take you to The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park. Built in 1938, it exhibits medieval art of Europe, including the Unicorn Tapestries donated by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Three of the seven tapestries depict contemporary plants in a flowery mead. On the terrace overlooking the Hudson, quince trees are surrounded by herbs.
Next day, explore Central Park, laid out by Frederick Law Ormstead after he studied Capability Brown’s work in Regents Park. Walk on up 5th Avenue and find the Conservatory Garden (enter from 5th Ave at 104th St), an inspired design by Lynden Miller. She was warned that her work might be vandalized, but this has not happened. It is immaculately kept, mostly by volunteers, and proves that when areas are beautiful, there is not always a wish to deface them, especially where plants are involved. In a rough situation close to the public library, Lynden has transformed a site, once used by lay-abouts, into a garden with shrubs and flowers, which the community enjoy and do not pick. This is a great step forward, and Lynden has acquired the confidence of the city planners.
I’m sure you will want to shop on and around 5th Ave. When you stop for a sandwich or a cup of coffee, go to one of the quiet gardens on 54th St, between Madison and 5th Ave, where a single site has been designed with trees for the ozone, chairs for the weary and waterfalls for blocking the noise of traffic. You’ll forget you are in a busy city…
Next, go to the Pierpont Morgan Library at 29 East 36th St and Madison Ave. They have a collection of old books and incunabula (books printed or transcribed before 1501) on view, and it has been a privilege for me to read there. The treasured books are placed on a velvet cushion and you are shown how to turn the pages.
It is worth devoting a whole day to the New York Botanical Garden, near the Zoo (200th St and Kazimiroff Blvd). Gregory Long is the president and he is in the midst of his 12-year programme. I am impressed by the way he has his eye on every area, from children’s gardens to a special exercise with Kim Tripp to label and record evergreens planted in the 20th century. Gregory always goes to the top, so find the newly rebuilt Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the herbaceous beds planted by Lynden and the Herb Garden created by Penny Hobhouse. You can use the cart to take you round, and have a general view of all the acres.
I am making a small but intensive vegetable garden there designed to be artistic, productive and educational, so visitors can understand the importance of crop rotation and will learn that many brassicas, kale and cabbages can survive the winter in NYC with very little protection. Amy Goldman is doing the research in this field, and is advising me.
The jewel in the crown for me is the late Russell Page’s small garden at the Frick Collection on East 70th St, between Madison and 5th Ave. It is simple, symmetrical and has a stretch of water for reflection. (Russell Page's last garden design can be seen at Pepsi Co in New York State.)
And I forgot to tell you: be sure to stand in the hallway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and take in the huge flower arrangements that Chris Giftos creates twice a week. They are dramatic and sensational.
For more information, visit the following websites:
Wave Hill: www.wavehill.org
Pierpont Morgan Library: www.morganlibrary.org
The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters: www.metmuseum.org
Botanical Garden: www.nybg.org
Central Park and the Conservatory Garden: www.centralpark.org
The Frick Collection: www.frick.org