“The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.” -- Edwin Way Teale, American naturalist and writer
It’s May, and the historic Untermyer Gardens of Yonkers, N.Y., are in bloom. We all know that gardens mean hope. Creating a place where natural beauty can be sown and nurtured and enjoyed is an ambitious, humanitarian act. Therefore, a restored historic garden represents hope renewed.
My trip to Yonkers confirmed it -- there is no better way to recharge than to try to capture some of the stories and scenes in a historic garden.
The Samuel Untermyer Gardens -- extensive, world-class historic gardens that boast views of the Hudson River -- are open as a public park, and they're being restored by the city of Yonkers and the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy.
The National Trust recently learned of the local efforts to raise awareness of the Untermyer Gardens and to spur further restoration, so I took to the road for a May afternoon in one of America’s historic designed landscapes.
Whether formal, naturalistic, or modernist, America’s garden heritage is rich and delightful. Public gardens are beloved community assets, but they, too, have documentation, restoration, and preservation needs. The Garden Conservancy is a great resource for planning your own Instagram tour of a historic garden near you.
Samuel Untermyer purchased the great estate of former New York Governor Samuel Tilden in 1899, and hired architect and landscape designer William Welles Bosworth in 1912 to create the “greatest garden in the world.” Untermyer was an enthusiastic and expert horticulturalist, and the gardens Bosworth and his patron created together were among the most famous in the country by the 1920s and '30s.
The Untermyer Gardens also represent America’s diverse ethnic and cultural heritage. Samuel Untermyer was a prominent lawyer and close associate of Woodrow Wilson, and he was among the most important Jewish leaders in the United States in his time. He and his wife Minnie Untermyer were renowned for their philanthropy and patronage of the arts in New York City.
The gardens are situated across from the Palisades -- cliffs along the western side of the Hudson River. Large spans of these cliffs were protected through joint efforts of the states of New York and New Jersey at around the same time Samuel Untermyer was creating his gardens.
Today, the National Trust and our partners are working to save a part of the Palisades south of here -- across from the Bronx and upper Manhattan -- from inappropriate development, as the Town of Englewood Cliffs has swept aside long-established height limits to allow LG Electronics to build a high tower that will deface that portion of the landmark viewshed.
Today, visitors can enjoy a walk, lecture, or performance surrounded by blooming flowers and trees in Untermyer’s walled garden, which is a masterwork of Indo-Persian motifs and configurations. Water features, fine sculptural elements, mosaics, and colonnades draw one through the space.
I'll leave you with another quote, this time from Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic The Secret Garden: "And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles."
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.