Bronx, New York
Even the name of a garden can have a certain allure. “Wave Hill” sounds exclusive, like somewhere the wealthy might vacation, and made me want to experience it all the more. Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain both inhabited Wave Hill’s residence over the years, but despite high-profile guests it retains a modest, rustic charm that won me over. The view of the Hudson River and New Jersey Palisades from the garden’s famous Pergola Overlook is the centerpiece of the property, but there are so many intriguing elements to be found that nearly rivaled that picturesque setting.
When I arrived I felt a pull towards that iconic river view just past the main gate, but another appealing arrangement entered my peripheral view and beckoned to be explored. The Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory rises from behind the appropriately named Flower Garden whose exuberant inhabitants threaten to overflow the ornate cedar log fence surrounding them. Bright colored flowers including African lilies and wild parsnip burst above rounded hedges planted in orderly beds in a simple grid setting with a circular centerpiece featuring potted petunias and types of aloe. An impressive cluster of orange-flowered cana lilies rose above it all.
Next to the Flower Garden was the conservatory, a modest affair consisting of a sparse main area from which extended two wings. The first was a series of tables crowded with small potted cactus and succulent plants of so many shapes and colors. I couldn’t help but gasp as I entered the tropical wing, where the identical table setup of the previous side was barely visible, being slowly overtaken by a lush miniature jungle. Plants that may have started in ceramic pots were slowly creeping their way across tables and hanging down from the ceiling. My favorite part was what was going on beneath the tables, where vines were twisting out of dark corners and across the gravel floor, and where dense ferns clustered about table legs.
Beyond the conservatory, the stone foundation of a greenhouse has been transformed into a series of themed terraces, each more appealing than the last and overhung with the ambiance of a ruin garden. The top tier consisted of an irregular puzzle of square concrete containers each with a tiny, intricate world of rugged, low-growing alpine plants in numerous shades of green and with mesmerizing textures worthy of close inspection. Wave Hill is like this, a series of small surprises and discoveries rather than obvious, showy displays.
This was perfectly evident in the showpiece, the Pergola Overlook, with its amazing view of the river beyond. Every surface is host to some manner of potted or hanging plant obviously chosen for its aesthetic appeal and contribution to the total scene. The very feelings stirred in the viewer seem to be echoed in the dazzling passionflower vine and ivy-choked stone columns. The view across the river is stunning, and even moreso when framed with such an ornate viewing platform.
Final Rating: I could easily imagine Wave Hill as the backdrop of some gothic romantic novel or historical drama on television. The magic here is its openness, in a kind of unstructured design that encourages discovery. I really responded to the understated nature of the gardens, but also was very much aware of the amount of effort that went into the layers of detail. What matters is the effect, and I found Wave Hill a very rewarding experience. FIVE BLOOM RATING