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Untermyer Gardens: Paradise on the Hudson

untermyercolumnsYou don't expect to find a 43-acre garden with influences of Persia, Spain, Italy and India tucked away behind a hospital in Yonkers, but look hard and you'll locate this paradise perched above the Hudson. Untermyer Gardens sits on property that was originally the site of Greystone, a 99-room mansion built by industrialist John Waring. The grand home was sold to Samuel Tilden a former Governor of New York in 1879 and purchased by Samuel Untermyer, an attorney in 1899.

Untermyer hired one of the era's foremost landscape designers to "create the greatest garden in the world" on his 150 acres on the banks of the Hudson. William Welles Bosworth, who trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and had just completed the gardens at the Rockefeller Mansion, Kykuit in Pocantico Hills was given the job.

His design centered on a vast, 3-½ acre walled gardens, known as the Grecian garden or the Indo-Persian garden that is traversed by crisscrossing canals that symbolize the four ancient rivers. Crenelated walls surround the garden and the main canal ends at a stone amphitheater flanked by two sphinxes on graystonecipolino marble columns. These were sculpted by Paul Manship who based them on the design of similar columns at the Boboli Gardens in Rome. You can only imagine the performances that took place there in its era. The garden also includes a large Greek temple that is sited over a deep mosaic pool that will hopefully be restored. You can see traces of elaborate design. Once maintained by 60 gardeners and supplied by 60 greenhouses, the site is vast.

In it's day in the 1930's, the garden was very popular and attracted up to 30,000 visitors for special occasions. Upon his death, Untermyer attempted to bequeath the garden to New York State or Westchester County to preserve as a state park, however neither could afford to maintain it. Portions of the property were sold off and the remaining 43 acres became the untermyergeciantempleproperty of the City of Yonkers. The mansion was demolished.

untermyer1Restoration is now underway where much of the previous garden is in ruin. Horticulturists hope to restore garden features such as the rock garden and the sundial. Other sections of the garden are now being excavated, re-imagined and replanted. The property includes a stunning staircase that descends from the walled garden toward the Hudson that at one time was flanked by six terraced color gardens. Though the gardens are gone, the stone stairway remains and leads down to an overlook where you can view the original gate that served as the entrance to the estate from the train line below. Our guide took us to climb to the "Temple of Love," a cantilevered temple that sits high above a rock garden and looks like a set for Romeo and Juliet.

The property is now maintained by the Untermyer Garden Conservancy untermyerperrenialswho is raising money to bring the gardens back to their original splendor under the direction of Horticulturist Timothy Tilghman and Horticultural Advisor Marco Polo Stufano, who worked together at Wave Hill. In an article for New York Cottage and Gardens Tilghman notes the cross-cultural roots of the Untermyer Gardens, saying, "The history of Untermyer the man and the gardener is significant. Untermyer was an American-born German Jew who married a Christian and based his gardens around Middle Eastern, Persian, and Islamic symbolism. These different cultures converging in a diverse community like Yonkers provided a measure of unity and peace in addition to being a garden escape. We hope Untermyer will become a national garden destination, if not a world one."

Learn more about tours and hours at www.untermyergardens.org.

Untermyer Gardens
945 North Broadway
Yonkers, NY 10701
(914) 512-0436untermyerpreservation
stariwaytempleoflove

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