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When an outsider thinks of New York City, the images that come into his or her mind are those of the Statue of Liberty, the bridges across Hudson River, the Empire State Building and the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan. The word “garden” is not really one of the words that are often associated with New York City.
But apart from the towering skyscrapers, New York City does have its gardens, and many of them have attained a distinction of their own. In whatever borough you might end up in when you go to New York City, you are likely to find a public garden where you can escape the din of the city itself.
Wave Hill Garden is one of these botanical hideaways in New York City. Located northwest of the Bronx, Wave Hill is a 28-acre sprawl of various land and aquatic gardens, greenhouses and woodland. It offers an incomparable view of Hudson River and the Palisades. Wave Hill also has a pretty colorful history. Originally built by the jurist William Lewis Morris in 1843, it became, for a time, the residence of famous historical personalities such as the author Mark Twain, United States President Theodore Roosevelt and Maestro Arturo Toscanini before it was donated to the City of New York in 1960.
Another garden that is located in the Bronx borough is none other than the New York Botanical Garden. Hailed as “a museum of living botanical masterpieces” by The New York Sun, the New York Botanical Garden is a spread of fifty gardens and plant collections over an area of 250 acres. Established in 1891, the New York Botanical Garden is among the largest of its kind throughout the world. It contains one of the world’s most extensive collections of plant life and is one of the leading centers for research on plants.
In Brooklyn, one can find the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a collection of impressive themed gardens rambling over a 52-acre area. Built in 1910, Brooklyn Botanic Garden now stands on what used to be an ash dump. Among its many gardens, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is home to the Steinhardt Conservatory, a huge greenhouse complex that houses the indoor plant collection of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, one of the oldest Japanese gardens outside Japan and considered one of the most beautiful. It is also in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that Elizabeth, the world’s first yellow magnolia, was developed.
Queens, the largest and the most ethnically diverse of all the boroughs of New York City, also has its own sanctuary for flora, and that is the 39-acre Queens Botanical Gardens. Queens Botanical Gardens started out as the site of the 1939 New York World Fair. Nearly seventy years later, Queens Botanical Garden takes advantage of the ethnical diversity of its environs and has served as a cultural research center, where focus is placed on the study of the connection between plants and people.
Staten Island also has its own counterpart to the other boroughs’ botanical gardens in Staten Island Botanical Garden. Founded in 1977, Staten Island Botanical Garden is famous for its Victorian charm and for its efforts to reflect diversity in cultures through its gardens. Staten Island Botanical Garden is home to the Butterfly Garden, a haven for lovely butterflies of various species; the World Trade Center Educational Tribute Center, a museum located in the center of Snug Harbor that is meant to stand as a memorial to the 9/11 tragedy; and the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, an enclosed labyrinth of eight pavilions and numerous walkways inspired by Chinese landscape art.
And of course, a discussion of New York City’s gardens will not be complete without including Central Park, that 700-acre of open space right smack in the heart of Manhattan. Built in 1853, Central Park is the first public landscaped park in the United States. It is home to many, many attractions, but foremost of these is the Conservatory Garden, a secluded, six-acre area that used to serve as the entrance to the Vanderbilt Mansion, and the Shakespeare Garden, a heavenly place where one can find all the flora that were mentioned in the works of the Bard.
New York City is not all about tall buildings and edifices. Find the gardens and you will find a lovely surprise.