Sustaining the Heather Garden for the Next 75 Years
Jennifer Hoppa, Administrator for Northern Manhattan Parks
The crown jewel of Fort Tryon Park, the Heather Garden, is one of the largest heath and heather gardens on the East Coast and the largest public garden with unrestricted access in New York City. As the three-acre garden is fast approaching its 75th birthday, many people are working to ensure that it remains a vital New York City, State, and Federal scenic landmark.
Flanked by stone walls and the remnants of Cornelius G.K. Billings’ early 1900’s estate and featuring spectacular views of the Hudson River, the Heather Garden hosts over 50 varieties of heaths (Erica carnea and Erica x darlyensis) and heathers (Calluna vulgaris), whose winter and summer blooms and colorful foliage create a delightful array of color year round. Two hundred varieties of perennials and shrubs add eye-catching shapes, textures and contrasts to the Heather Garden.
Today’s visitors may be surprised to learn that after the fiscal crisis of the 1970’s, much of the garden’s original splendor was entirely lost to overgrowth, invasive tree growth, and declining maintenance. Even the views of the Hudson River were obstructed. The vistas visitors enjoy today are largely the result of the 1983 Landscape Restoration Plan. Jane Schachat, a former Park Administrator, painstakingly oversaw the Heather Garden’s restoration, which was funded by the Greenacre Foundation and executed by landscape architect and Trust Board Member Nicholas Quennell of Quennell Rothschild & Partners.
Over the last several decades, the Greenacre Foundation and more recently, the Fort Tryon Park Trust, have continued to fund dedicated staffing and horticultural supplies, equipment and plants to complement the resources of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and to preserve the splendor of the Heather Garden.
October 2010 will mark Fort Tryon Park’s 75th anniversary, and the Trust wants to ensure that the Heather Garden will continue to thrive and serve as a respite to New Yorkers, irrespective of the City’s fiscal climate. The Trust has engaged Lynden Miller, the Public Garden Designer, to develop a Framework Plan for enhancing and sustaining the Heather Garden for the long term. Miller is known for her public garden work in Bryant Park, Central Park’s Conservatory Garden, Madison Square Park, the Perennial Garden at the New York Botanical Garden and Columbia University.
Miller has been working with the Trust and the Parks Department to help identify ways to build upon the unique horticultural and historic assets of the Heather Garden and to ensure that they remain featured in the garden throughout its lifetime. Miller has been meeting with the gardeners, culling their knowledge of the garden’s problems and strengths. The gardeners have mapped out all existing conditions and compiled year-round bloom lists of plants and shrubs used to enhance the garden and respect the spirit of the original Olmsted Brothers plan.
The Framework Plan will tackle recurring soil problems, identify ways to open up and frame views, expand existing perennial groupings, and incorporate small shrubs at key locations to create more structure and cohesiveness in the garden year round. The approach will help minimize ongoing maintenance of the garden, and yet preserve its romantic feel and otherworldly aura.
This fall, the gardeners will be busy transplanting and planting, so come up to the garden to see their progress.