A few gardens go beyond mere beauty, with groundbreaking innovation that educates and delights us with the possibilities inherent in putting plants together. Wave Hill in Bronx, New York, is just such a garden.

Wave Hill's flower garden. Photo by: Mick Hales.

Built in 1843, it is the only former Hudson River estate still in existence within the city limits, creating an oasis for urbanites. This was exactly the goal of its first director of horticulture, Marco Polo Stufano, who retired in 2001 after more than 30 years of sculpting the gardens, blending high horticulture with natural beauty on this 28-acre paradise. A public garden since 1965, Wave Hill has become a leader in making such spaces cosmopolitan as well as intimate, of combining art and the wild world, thanks in large part to the efforts of Stufano and his collaborator, John Nally.

Fall color at Wave Hill. Photo by: Mick Hales.

Accepted concepts today were radical notions when Wave Hill first tried them out. “Now we take for granted the groundbreaking way plants are presented there,” says Judith Zuk, president of Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “You can always count on seeing something new and different, yet done with plants that are not impossible for the average gardener to grow.”

Left: The entrance to the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory. Right: The Wave Hill herb garden. Photos by: Mick Hales.

Wave Hill explores the use of familiar plants in extraordinary ways that in turn become mainstream. There are memorable vignettes and views, even when visits are only days apart: clematis weaving through a conifer; a waterfall of weeping cedar draped over a pergola; native American asters used with panache. Other examples of Wave Hill ingenuity:

  • Each year a sizable bed just outside the front garden is planted in a one-time-only display. One year it might be red and purple foliage plants, another time vegetables in an ornamental exhibition; once it was tropical plants for summer display, well before they were “in.”
  • South African bulbs like lachenalia add special appeal in the Alpine House; other bulbs add pizzazz to containers and embellish the summer garden.
  • Such plants as dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ were once exotic beauties seen only in England, until you returned home and saw them at Wave Hill.
  • The insouciant exuberance of self-sowing annuals in the Wild Garden took Victorian-style primness and shook it loose.
  • Pots spilling over with vibrant combinations, placed throughout the gardens and changed seasonally, add color and texture.

A vital resource, Wave Hill continues to be peerless, intimate and personal, with an extraordinarily diverse collection of plants both hardy and tender. Clearly, Wave Hill will continue to develop and influence garden style for decades to come.

See www.wavehill.org or call 718-549-3200 for more information. Wave Hill is at West 249th Street and Independence Avenue, Bronx, New York.

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