Yonkers, New York
The notion of a Paradise Garden conjures images of an enclosed oasis running with enchanted waters where flowers and greenery spread out in abundance. I did not expect to encounter such a spectacle to unfold in front of me under the guise of a modest-sized public park in Yonkers, New York. Untermyer Gardens sits on a hillside with some amazing views of the Hudson River but the gardens and architectural features within are simply awe-inducing. Just when the garden opulence veers into excessively ostentatious territory it reveals a crumbling, ruinous underside that balances the aesthetic and adds in some drama.
While there are several distinct sections within the park, the walled Walled Garden is truly the grand centerpiece of Untermyer. It is built in a Persian-influenced rectangular layout that directly references a biblical paradise garden divided into quadrants by intersecting waterways. Just inside the main gate of the towering walls, two massive weeping beech trees cast shadows and form a living curtain, which finally gives way to the first view of the paradise beyond.
Rows of fastigiate beech trees stand as if at attention, parallel to the main waterway, bordered with a perfectly curated mix of annual flowers. Every direction I turned offered a unique line of sight packed with visual stimulation. The main focal point of the place is most certainly a flower-lined pool backed by an ornate amphitheater, which itself is overseen by two majestic sphinxes atop marble columns. On either side of the curved centerpiece, two wide loggia added architectural interest, not to mention a pleasing shaded area with gorgeous mosaic tile floors, bright hanging flowers, and large tropical potted plants.
Off to one side of the Walled Garden stands the Temple of the Sky, a classically inspired circle of columns overlooking the Hudson. From within the garden the columns look grand and pristine against the trees in the distance, but upon closer inspection the whole structure shows signs of the rough years where the park had fallen into neglect. The mosaic-tiled swimming pool below the columned platform, cracked and overgrown with weeds, speaks of the long history behind all of the luxury on display. Down the hill, weathered stone pillars and aged concrete stairways dissolve into overgrown grasses, echoes of the expansive, stepped gardens that once dominated the hillside. A feeling of melancholy hangs about the garden for the loss of such lavish design, but it adds an appealing dash of mystery and romance to the place.
Before I give the impression of a garden gone to ruin, let me mention two other more recently restored sections that I nearly overlooked. The Temple of Love is a manmade cascade of carved stone, hollowed through with twisting walkways and waterfall features and culminating in an ornate gazebo overlook. The Vista is an expansive staircase leading from one side of the lower terrace down to a curved viewing platform of the river with two hefty stone pillars. Dazzling views both up and down the sweeping staircase are accentuated by rows of Japanese cedar and yellow green ornamental grasses along either side.
Final Rating: For all the over-the-top display of wealth and excess at Untermyer, there was a real emphasis on design, and a way in which colors and textures were layered for maximum effect. There were also countless rewarding views where intentional plantings, canals, and pathways enhanced the perspective sightlines. I was simply dazzled with the garden bounty within the Walled Garden set against the classical architecture with its ornate mosaic and tile work. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this garden was the free admission and operation under the guise of a simple public park. If I lived anywhere nearby, this would be the secret spot I would insist on taking any visitor from out of town! FIVE BLOOM RATING