Untermyer


Outside of the walled garden at Untermyer.


Untermyer is one of the most exciting restoration of a historic garden I have seen for awhile. Once the garden and and namesake of a very successful corporate Jewish lawyer and his Christian wife Minnie in the early 1900s, the garden has been left for years as this mystical grand ruin. Its story and appearance is almost one of fables. There is something haunting seeing this unusual and stunning Indo-Persian styled architecture in these times with it's strong symbolic fortress walled garden and towers in each corner, it's criss cross axis of canals and paths, one of them flanked by two tall columns alighted each with a sphinx on top and a round open top Greek style temple looking out onto the dramatic view of the Hudson River and the steep cliffs of the Palisades, representing cross overs of different religion and culture and an interpretation of Eden.



The first view as you step into the walled garden



On the other side of the most impressive weeping beeches hanging over the entrance



The iconic looking canal with the sphinxes on cipolino marble columns. Their repeated planting of the trailing Dichondra argentea 'Silver Falls', with a more upright silver leafed thyme and bright pink Verbena spilling into the canal is simple and effective.


The cliffs casting it shadows and the sky reflected on the steely blue water, creates almost a fuzzy dreamy hue in the distance. This is all enhanced by the air of neglect that this garden has gone through, though the main parts of the walled garden looked very well maintained, a few remnants of sections remained untouched by any restoration yet - one of them a beautiful mosaic area below the Grecian temple (this garden once had the most mosaics in the Western Hemisphere), has just as much charm in its ruined state.



The open air Grecian Temple



Mosaic of Medusa inside the Grecian Temple



Beautiful remnants of one of the mosaic areas underneath the Grecian Temple.


The most amazing thing about this garden is that it is now a free public park frequented especially by the locals of the Yonkers area, the grandeur of the past being used and shared by everyday people. This seems in keeping with the former owner’s rich cultural history, Untermyer was an avid horticulturist as well as a huge advocate for human rights and public activist and his wife was a prominent patron of the arts and a suffragette. Although the garden was private, they did wish to share their garden and opened its doors to the public on a weekly basis, according to a leaflet ‘Thirty thousand visitors came to the garden on a single day in September 1939.’ The estate was formerly called Greystone and Untermeyer had intended for it to become a state park, but unfortunately the original size and format of it was too big and expensive for it to be ran this way, and in the end much of it was sold off and parts of it (16 acres) was gifted to the City of Yonkers as a city park, but due to the lack of funds for years it fell in and out of disrepair. But with the input of passionate people recognising and treasuring the special qualities of this place, like community leaders Nortrud Spero and Joe Kozlowski of the Open Space Institute who campaigned for more land in the 1990s to be re-acquired as part of the park, and the creation of the Untermyer Conservancy working in partnership with the City of Yonkers, the site is now 43 acres, and slowly being restored stage by stage. As well as the walled garden, there is a dramatic viewpoint from a terrace on a ridge leading to a vista modelled on the Renaissance garden Ville D’Este on Lake Como in Italy, woodland, rocky outcrops including one with a picnic bench on top and one with a recently restored Temple of Love with a series of small waterfalls.



The reflecting pool below the Sphinx columns with an amphitheatre behind. The planting throughout the garden was well chosen and well done, everything was just so, like the golden leaved Salvia here lining the pond. There was also some quirky and unusual horticulture including some fastigiate Liquidambar and a very well shaped and pollarded Manihot esculenta (cassava) in a pot.


The story of my friend and gardener Drew Schuyler who started there in June this year is just as extraordinary - an ex-PG student at Longwood and local Yonkers, he grew up exploring the garden when it was still ruins. When the park was being restored again he returned to be a seasonal gardener here, and then after many travels and adventures he came back to be a permanent member of staff and to live in the neighbourhood again. When I came to attend Untermeyer’s end of summer gala with a small group of friends, we had the fortune to stay with him in his small family home nearby. It was the homiest place I had stayed in for a while, and I was able to get a personal sense of his connection to the garden.

It is a garden that could have just as easily got lost in time and has a story that is as compelling as the Highline, including cult associations with it that gives it an edge. This area sees another garden of great character - the other one being Wave Hill just down the river from here. Maybe it is something to do with Marco Polo Stufano the Founding Director of Horticulture at Wave Hill being also the Horticultural Adviser for Untermyer.

For more information on the garden see their website - www.untermyergardens.org

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