Garden Guide: New York City on NY1

Garden Guide: New York City was featured on NY1 earlier this month! Click to see the feature: How To Take Advantage Of City's Public Gardens, with Shelley Goldberg.

St. John the Divine

It is naïve to expect a garden to remain the same over the years; visitors have to accept changes to a garden if it is to remain vibrant. But the removal of Keith Corlett's jewel-like mosaic medallion from the central floor of the Biblical Garden at St. John the Divine is sad for those of us who admired the work of the late garden designer, who refurbished the Biblical Garden in 2001 as a labor of love, and designed and installed the mosaics himself. His gothic-inspired gateway and arbors are still there, as are remnants of the entrance mosaics, but his legacy is sadly much diminished.
Corlett, who died in 2004, was an immensely talented garden designer responsible for many of New York’s most romantic and well-planted private terraces.  He had a special affinity for the Renaissance and designed and installed a mosaic version of the Metropolitan Museum’s Studiolo in a friend’s garden in Harlem as well as this garden at St John the Divine.  
The good news is that the mosaics, which had deteriorated badly, have been replaced by a very nice stone fountain that ironically looks quite correct, if less colorful than Corlett’s mosaics.  Stone carver Chris Pellettieri, who has fashioned several works for the Cathedral and has a work area on the grounds, created the simple shape, inspired by traditional forms and motifs. The sound of gently falling water does add appreciably to the biblical ambiance. 
The garden, with Jimmy the peacock still in residence, looks otherwise quite spiffy, if a little less biblical. The inner box beds are bedded out with what looks like salvia Victoria Blue, which does a great job staying perky all summer, but seems more like a a Wal-Mart special, than a salvia which might be found in the holy land thousands of years ago.
Heather Garden, Fort Tryon Park

The Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park, long the Cinderella of the city’s public gardens, is finally really going to the ball. On the occasion of the park’s 75th Anniversary David Rockefeller has donated a million dollars to Fort Tryon Park Trust, which is working hard to keep the park, located next to the Cloisters in Northern Manhattan, in good condition.  Lynden Miller is working on a “framework plan” to ensure that the magnificent but labor-intensive, 300 -ft. borders remain vibrant for the next 75 years.  The huge borders, last restored in the 1980s present a maintenance challenge; keeping the shrub and perennial plantings in proportion requires skill and a lot of manpower, and while the garden has sometimes had the skill it has rarely had the manpower. 
The upper border has been renovated and was completed for the June 15th announcement party for the Rockefeller gift, which was feted with fireworks. Miller has adjusted the proportions and reintroduced rhythm to the borders. Her style is usually distinctive, but here the immensely knowledgeable Miller has used her skills to burnish the original design, tightening a composition here, repeating certain elements there, which has had the happy result of giving us the Olmsted brothers--genuinely improved!
Royal Visit

Dressed in a bright green floral suit with trademark hat and evincing not a scrap of discomfort in the stifling heat, Queen Elizabeth the Second visited the British Memorial Garden in Hanover Square on July 6, 2010, touring the three-quarter-acre square and chatting with organizers and specially invited guests. The garden, which was conceived in 2003 and officially opened in 2009, is a memorial to the 67 citizens of the United Kingdom who died during the World Trade Center attacks and a symbol of Anglo-American friendship.

The designers of the garden, the British husband-and-wife team of Isobel and Julian Bannerman, well-known in the UK for their work at Highgrove, Prince Charles’ estate, have given New Yorkers a stylistic departure from other downtown gardens, bringing a bit of British whimsy and tradition. A ribbon of meticulously carved pavers, each engraved with the name of a British county, outlines the shape of the British Isles; a series of curved benches snake their way down the triangular square. But the original plantings, including voluptuously bulbous topiaries, proved quite difficult to keep  green.  All the worst conditions of a city garden are present in the square: it’s dark, windy, and used by a lot of people. Although Prince Henry officially opened the park in May 2009, the plants were struggling. Last spring, with the Royal visit imminent, the British Memorial Garden Trust asked public garden designer Lyndon B. Miller and her colleague Ronda M. Banks to step in and, while they retained the idiosyncratic sinuous hardscaping, Miller and Banks completely revamped the planting.

Miller’s long experience in greening difficult urban spaces paid off, and the park now looks extremely well-clothed, a pleasing mixture of woodland plants and tough shrubs--lots of hydrangeas and rhododendron.  A sensitive grace note is the winding ribbon of 67 nandina, or heavenly bamboo, one for each of the British victims of the attacks.  The delicate foliage of the nandinas is always elegant and turns a brilliant red in the fall. There are plans to give a nandina to each of the bereaved families to place in their gardens back home. The Queen seemed to approve.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

When Brooklyn Bridge Park is finally (ever?) completed it will be 1.3 miles long and will stretch from the Manhattan Bridge to the foot of Atlantic Avenue, transforming the derelict industrial piers into a green, family-friendly potpourri of waterfront leisure activities.  The 85-acre park will include the existing Fulton Ferry Park. The new construction starts at the Brooklyn Bridge and for now just the two ends are operable--the 6-acre Pier 1, which opened to relatively little fanfare on a day of drenching rain in March, and the 7-acre Pier 6, which just welcomed its first visitors in June. The central portions of the park, which will include a boat launch and kayak lanes, ball fields and sundry other amenities, will be constructed “as money becomes available," which has an ominous sound. 
At the moment, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ distinct planting style and the site furniture are all that link the two ends of the park. Both areas are very closely planted with predominantly native plants, for an instant landscape effect. Pier 6 features a collection of innovative playgrounds including “Swing Valley," a water park and “Boulder Mountain,” and was immediately popular with Brooklynites. On the blazing hot Sunday that we visited, crowds of sweaty but satisfied families were exploring the unusual playground facilities.  
Pier 1, a 6-acre parcel including a water garden still under construction, is designated as an area of “passive recreation”--landscape architecture-speak for a regular park, with benches, trees and grass. Tree-shaded serpentine paths and walkways lead over and about large grassed berms, created to provide some topography for a site that is otherwise dead flat. The water garden will collect and recycle grey water from paths and parking lots and is expected to provide a large percentage of the irrigation for the park. Sustainability and recycling have been core values on this project and it’s a pleasure to see the thoughtful way the design team searches for ways to recycle and reuse.  The benches are made from re-milled timber from an old warehouse on site. The inevitable fences and barriers are simple, unvarnished wooden posts and steel cables. A curious ziggurat-shaped earth form, which offers visitors a magnificent view of the harbor came about when the design team learned that slabs of granite discarded from the Roosevelt Island Bridge during a recent renovation were available and they decided to use them to configure a set of steps, described as a “granite prospect” facing the harbor.   
A word about safety: citizen outrage has already forced the removal of metal playground equipment that some felt became too hot for safety (even placing a tent over the surface to cool it down did not suffice), but the steps of the earth form, which is 30 feet high, are extremely narrow and steep -- a misstep would almost inevitably cause injury, or worse, and this seems perfectly fine with the powers that be -- Go figure.