The new restoration of the spectacular Untermyer Gardens, now more than 40 acres overlooking the Hudson River in Yonkers, is something to behold. The work to restore its centerpiece, a Walled Persian Garden, began in 2011. The results are truly awesome.
In the early 20th century, the gardens were created on the Greystone estate of Samuel Untermyer, a prosperous lawyer, investor, and avid horticulturist, who hired about 60 gardeners and maintained dozens of greenhouses. The scale of the gardens was 3 to 4 times as large as the Rockefeller gardens at Kykuit in Pocantico Hills, and they were designed by the same man, Beaux Arts architect William Welles Bosworth.
Today the main feature of the gardens is the restored Ind0-Persian Walled Garden with north-south and east-west canals symbolizing the four ancient rivers of Persia, the rivers of Mughal gardens in India, and the biblical descriptions of Eden. The waterways contain dozens of gurgling water fountains and are bordered by lush plantings.
A Greek-style amphitheater with mosaics and monumental sculpture stands at the northern end of the Walled Garden. References to ancient Greek, Roman, and Italian Renaissance designs are everywhere.
From the lower terrace of the Walled Garden, an impressive set of stone and grass steps cascade down toward the Hudson River to what’s called the “Vista.” Dozens of slender, pyramidal Japanese cedars have been planted in rows on both sides of the steps to draw the eye down to the view. More will be planted this fall to complete the effect, according to Stephen F. Byrns, Chairman of the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy.
These evergreens were part of the original Bosworth design but were lost in later years. Bosworth based his design on the famous rows of cypresses leading to a view of Lake Como at the Villa d’ Este in Italy, one of the greatest Italian Renaissance gardens. At the bottom of the steps is the Vista Overlook with two graceful marble columns that frame the view of the Hudson River and the Palisades.
Untermyer wanted his gardens to be “the finest in the world,” says Byrns. And now the Walled Garden is, in fact, considered to be the finest Persian garden in the Western Hemisphere. Byrns notes that plans for the future include restoration of the Temple of Love, plus completion of the the plantings along the Vista staircase.
The gardens are open free to the public Monday through Friday 8 AM – dusk. Saturday and Sunday, Noon – dusk. They are located at 945 North Broadway, Yonkers, NY 10701 tel. 914-613-4502 www.untermyergardens.org
Images courtesy Joyce H. Newman
Joyce H. Newman is an Emmy Award-winning environmental journalist, educator, and gardener. She holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden, and is a tour guide there.