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Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park

Park of the Month - April 2005

Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park
Heather Garden
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Heather Garden

Heather Garden is home to more than 2,000 heath and heather plants, making it one of the East Coast’s largest and most picturesque collections of its kind. These low-lying clusters of purple-pink flowers afford the garden sweeping views of the Hudson River and New Jersey’s Palisades Park.

Heather GardenHeathers are interspersed with a complex mixture of shrubs, bulbs, perennials, annuals, and small flowering trees. This stunning landscape blooms nearly year-round, moving from heaths in late winter to over 15,000 bulbs in the spring. Azaleas, a colorful addition to early spring, are followed by more than 20 varieties of peonies and dozens of groupings of irises in late May. In June, hundreds of fragrant lilies and dozens of roses flower. Clematis and annual vines climb on evergreen shrubs and trellises. American elms line the broad pedestrian promenade overlooking the garden’s interlocking landscapes.

Heather Garden sits at the south entrance of Fort Tryon Park, an official City landmark on the northwest end of Manhattan that also houses the Cloisters and the Jacob Koppel Javits and Anne Loftus playgrounds. Fort Tryon, built by the esteemed Olmsted Brothers architecture firm, was donated to the City by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1931. Heather Garden was designed as a distinct place of beauty and repose within the park itself.

An ill-conceived 1955 renovation disregarded important aspects of the Olmsted design, and by the 1980s the garden had become overgrown and its magnificent vistas obscured. In 1985, Parks & Recreation, with the help of the Greenacre Foundation, began a renovation of Fort Tryon Park to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its opening. Thousands of photographs from the 1930s were consulted during the three-year renovation, as well as over 900 drawings and 250 pages of plant listings. The first phase of the project focused on the main terrace and the Heather Garden.

Heather GardenHeather Garden plays an active and imaginative role in its diverse community, hosting everything from fitness programs to moonlight nature walks to horticultural therapy workshops for senior citizens. The Heather Garden Trust was founded five years ago to ensure the proper care, maintenance, and ongoing restoration of this priceless haven. The Trust has raised approximately $1.4 million towards its ultimate goal of $5 million. On April 6, the Heather Garden Trust will host its annual spring supper and benefit, simultaneously honoring notable contributors to the park including Eugene R. McGrath, Chairman and CEO of Con Edison, for his leadership and generous support for the park; Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer, a long-time resident of Washington Heights, for her longstanding commitment to the park and the surrounding community; and Adrian Benepe, the Commissioner of New York City Parks and Recreation, for his ongoing dedication to the protection and enhancement of the city's open spaces.