Visit to Wave Hill, a Hudson River estate garden in New York City

I traveled to New York City with my daughter on October 10 to see public gardens. On Saturday, our first full day in New York, a chilly rain didn’t keep us from visiting Wave Hill, a 28-acre estate garden in the Bronx with a million-dollar view of the Hudson River and the Palisades, sheer cliffs of exposed, vertically striated stone on the opposite shore.

Wave Hill had a succession of owners and a few famous tenants between its construction in 1843 and 1960, when it was deeded to the City of New York. Mark Twain leased the place from 1901 to 1903, and as a boy Theodore Roosevelt summered here with his family. Two houses and a conservatory remain today, along with gardens acclaimed for their horticultural artistry.

We took the train for the 30-minute ride from midtown out to the Bronx, and from there a Wave Hill shuttle took us to the garden. Away from the bustle of the streets of Manhattan, we found ourselves in a serene oasis, with the soft dripping of rain and birdsong in our ears instead of honking horns and whooshing subways. You enter to views of a sweeping lawn leading to a long, vine-draped pergola. The river and Palisades view just beyond was partly obscured by mist.

Let’s save the pergola garden and turn right toward the simply named Flower Garden, a formally arranged garden of exuberant, colorful plant combos, surrounded by a Chippendale-style cedar fence and arbors.

Tall grasses partly screen the view as you enter.

Blackberry lily, tall verbena, and blanketflower add to the fall scene.

Pink cosmos threads through the grasses.

A wide brick walk runs through the center of the garden, with rustic cedar arbors and benches bookending the space. An impressive conservatory overlooks the garden.

Turning around, you can see the river and Palisades through a window in the arbor.

Paralleling the brick walk is a narrow stone path along the perimeter. Chartreuse plants glow even on this misty morning.

Glancing over the fence you see the lawn, with pairs of the famous Wave Hill chairs inviting you to sit and enjoy the view — on drier days, anyway.

Looking across the center of the garden, you see the conservatory framed by four fastigiate trees in pots. The bronze mound in the center is oxalis.

Yes, oxalis! I tried to part the foliage in order to discover how the mound was created: tiered containers, or mounded soil, or just a monstrous single plant? (Couldn’t be!) But it was raining pretty steadily by now, and I couldn’t juggle camera, camera bag, and umbrella well enough to look. It remains a mystery.

Looking to the far end of the garden you see the other arbor. Evergreen shrubs add year-round structure.

Turning around, here’s the opposite view.

I enjoyed this rich, purple foliage accented by orange and peach sunset hues.

Bold dahlias stole the show.

Red berries on a yellowing, potted tree make a pretty fall scene too.

Peach dahlias complement the bronze oxalis mound.

It’s such a textural garden, invitingly touchable, with sophisticated color combos.

We took a quick peek inside the conservatory, but aside from a few tables of succulents it wasn’t that interesting. So let’s go back to the pergola overlooking the Hudson.

Packed with potted plants and hung with vines, the pergola is essentially a container garden on steroids.

My daughter, investigating a plant or a fallen leaf from the shelter of her umbrella

Tearing my eyes away from the pergola garden, I paused to admire the mist-shrouded view from a handsome stone balustrade.

A double stair leads to the lawn below…

…and to the Elliptical Garden, formerly the site of a swimming pool.

Twin golden pots mark the entry to this small garden.

Concrete benches offer contemplative places to rest.

I love the melancholy, going-to-seed splendor of the autumn garden.

There are wooded trails to explore below the Elliptical Garden, but they were muddy and overhung with dripping foliage, so we headed back to the balustrade stairs and the pergola.

Summer’s zinnias were still hanging on.

Ivy was hanging too.

Back in the main gardens I admired the fall color in this scene: burgundy foliage and purple beautyberries.

We liked this cheerful vegetable garden too, planted along a vine-swagged, golden-yellow fence in the Paisley Bed, so named for its comma shape. The Paisley Bed is redone every year to new effect, so you won’t see the same design twice.

The Flower Garden and pergola views were gorgeous, but the best was yet to come. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Wave Hill visit, which includes the dramatic Monocot Garden and pond, Mediterranean-style Dry Garden, and windswept Wild Garden.

For a look back at my 2-part tour of the High Line, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

26 Responses

  1. Rebecca says:

    How beautiful, Pam! I’m glad you braved it in spite of the rain. It certainly is full and luxurious! The conservatory is grand-looking….The pergola and its views SO peaceful.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    A beautiful place even in the rain.

  3. Those dahlias — wow. They’re amazing and the palette of colors throughout the garden is so rich. I think the weather adds an interesting backdrop for the fall plants. Glad you both had a good time.

  4. ks says:

    Ooo la la..I love Wave Hill, and it’s been way too long since I’ve visited there. I look forward to your 2nd installment.

  5. What a lovely garden…I am totally gonna do my own Texas version of the dark purple and orange foliage!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      What will you use for the dark purple, Heather? We have so few plants with those rich tones, mainly loropetalum and purple heart and the occasional sunburned smoke tree or ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud. Can you think of anything else? —Pam

  6. commonweeder says:

    What beautiful photos of a truly wonderful garden. I was happy and amused to see that you included a photo of Love Lies Bleeding. I first saw this odd plant with its plaintive name at Wave Hill many years ago, and I finally planted it in my garden this year. Here is has been graceful but equally poignant.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I had to look up Love Lies Bleeding, Commonweeder. :-) I don’t even try to ID plants from other parts of the country unless we can grow them in Texas, although I did recognize that this was an amaranthus. What an evocative name, but kind of creepy. Good for Halloween though. —Pam

  7. Wave Hill has been on my wish list of gardens to see, so thank you for the tour!

  8. rickii says:

    This is going to get even better? Hard to believe. What a delightful time you are having with your daughter. I am gaining appreciation for the Hudson River Valley. On Sunday, we heard a talk by Bob Hyland, who showed slides of that area, where he had a nursery for a time before moving here.
    “melancholy going-to-seed splendor” is a beautiful descriptive phrase. I have a couple of bouquets that are over-the-hill but still beautiful in that way.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I had no idea of the beauty of the Palisades and Hudson River, Ricki, so it was a delightful surprise. I’d love to explore that region sometime. Hyland’s talk sounds wonderful. —Pam

  9. deb says:

    I always love your photos!

  10. TexasDeb says:

    You are killing me with that oxalis mound. I can’t get it out of my head. Now I’m wondering if any version of that could possibly exist here, at least part of the year….because. Oxalis mound!!!

    Is that garden typically so empty of visitors? Perhaps it is a fiction of your photographic choices but it looks like you had Wave Hill all to yourselves.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The oxalis mound was killer, Deb. I can’t imagine we could pull it off with our summer heat, but I’d cheer you on if you tried.

      And yes, the chilly rain no doubt kept visitors away, as we had it to ourselves for nearly all of our visit. Later families with small children arrived for a Saturday morning children’s activity, but that was held indoors, and we didn’t run into them until we stopped in the cafe for lunch. —Pam

  11. Dee Nash says:

    Pam, thank you for the tour. Wave Hill rivals British gardens doesn’t it? I will make a plan to visit there someday. Now, on to the High Line.~~Dee

  12. Carol says:

    Looks like a place where you can spend days wandering around. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It’s really not that large. A couple of hours will do it, Carol, with maybe an extra hour to lounge in the lawn chairs and enjoy a beautiful day. ;-) —Pam

  13. What a wonderful trip you and your daughter had. I’ve been enjoying revisiting Wave Hill with you. Mark and i visited in 1998 and it is still one of our favorites. We’ve seen some of our favorite gardens in the rain which is nice if it’s not too hard. Have not been to the High Line or NYBG so enjoyed getting a look at them through your eyes. Liked your daughter in a couple of the images for scale.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The Wildflower Center in Austin is a favorite for visiting in a gentle rain, Linda, because rainwater harvesting is such an important part of the garden’s design. You can see water sluicing along aqueducts, down rain chains, and falling into an enormous cistern that you can actually climb to the top of. Rain rarely stops me from a garden visit. Luckily my daughter is a sport about it too. —Pam